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Almighty God, grant that as You shine on us by Your Word that we may not be blind, staring into the sun, that we may not seek darkness in the middle of the day, but may we be awakened by Your words, stirred up more and more to fear You, to worship You, to obey You, that we might present ourselves as living sacrifices in Your sight. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis 44. If you don’t have a Bible, there’s one in the pew in front of you. I do encourage you to turn there or turn on your device, follow along in Genesis chapter 44 as I read this chapter and then keep your Bible open because we’re going to look at various places in the book of Genesis and then land back at chapter 44.
So follow along as I read, as we here are in the middle of this Joseph story. You can see from the plan ahead in the next two weeks we’re going to speed ahead and finish the remaining six verses [sic] in the next two weeks.
This morning we come to the moment right before Joseph is going to reveal himself to his brothers. He has one last test of his brothers.
“Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.”
“As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’” When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” He said, “Let it be as you say: He who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.”
“When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 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?” 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; Behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 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.””
“Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’”
““When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’ Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.””
As we’ve already noted in the service, and as most of you recognize, this is graduation season. I bet almost all of you will be at some graduation or know somebody in your family or friend or niece or nephew, son or daughter, who is graduating from something this year. When you get to the end your high school, in particular, most high schools will have some sort of yearbook. It’s great to look through and see everybody’s faces and you can go look at those for years to come and see how poorly dressed you were and the hairstyles you had and all the rest, and wait long enough and then they all come back eventually.
My kids have yearbooks and they love to look at them when they get the Covenant Day School yearbook each year. One habit that they don’t seem to have, and maybe you had it when you were growing up, but in my school we would go around and everyone would sign the yearbook, and you would have an opportunity to have all of your friends in there, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to look at those signatures, because I never have, but, it meant a lot at the time and people sometimes would sign not just their name but they would give some real pearls of wisdom: “Have a great summer,” very profound; “Stay in touch.”
I remember the girls used to write “LYLAS,” Love ya like a sister, and my friends and I started to do the same. They would say “friends forever,” “it was great sitting next to you in math class,” hopefully not cheating off of you in math class, and then this one which you may recall, I remember many people writing this, “Don’t ever change.” Of all the foolish things to tell teenagers, don’t ever change, freeze who you are, 17, 18, maybe 22 years old, freeze that for all time. Don’t ever change.
Of course, we know we do change. We can’t help but change. Hair changes. I know I went gray fairly early. I was not gray in high school, actually. Your weight changes usually. Your looks change. You learn new things, you meet new people, you go to different places, you experience different things. You can’t help but not change.
And of course you hope that the change is not just physical, and eventually the physical changes just we get older, but you change for the better. As Christians we want to change to become more like Christ. We want to leave the bad part of us behind, even non-Christians, if you’re here this morning and you’re just wanting to learn more about Jesus, you want to change. You want to leave some bad habit behind. There are all sorts of best-selling books on just creating better habits, a better version of you. As Christians we want to grow in virtue and holiness and maturity.
But it is, when you think about, really one of the most difficult questions to answer: How do people change?
There are all sorts of book on that. There are secular books, a whole self-help section that’s really on how do you change. There are classes on it. There are volumes and volumes of Christian books and sermons. Some people even question is it possible to change.
I put into Google this week, preparing for this sermon, I just thought well, let’s see what turns up, and I put in “how do people change” and I was surprised that about half of the links on the first page were questioning whether or not people can change.
So a site called Better Help, “Can people change or is someone stuck.” A site called Healthline, “Can people change? A look at what’s realistic.” A site called Psych Central, another one, Verywellmind, both had the heading, “Can People Really Change?” Another site said, “Can people really change or do they simply modify their behavior to suit certain conditions?”
About half of the links on that first page of the Google search we all about can you really actually change.
Well, I hope you don’t need to be convinced that as a Christian change is at the very heart of God’s project with us. Now listen very carefully lest you misunderstand this and the rest of the sermon – if I were to say that change is what leads to grace, then that wouldn’t be grace. That would be anti-Gospel. No, the Christian message is just the opposite – God sovereignly, unilaterally loves us, while we were sinners Christ died for us, and then having received that grace, He then threw that grace, changes us. So let’s not get the order reversed.
But it’s certainly the case that at the heart of being a Christian is God’s work in your life that you would not be stuck, that you would not be the same person at 18 as you were at 8 or at 38 as you were at 18 or 88 as you were at 48. God means to change us. And until you die, He’s not done changing you. We are supposed to be transformed from one degree of glory to the next. This is all over the Bible. We put to death the old man, we put off the old self, over and over, the Bible is about how do we change.
So how do we? Many of us would look at our own lives and say I have a lot of things I wish I could change. Or maybe the person sitting next to you, don’t look at them right now, but you have some things you think, I wish they would change. There’s a lot of things we can say – the power of the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, the communion of the saints, the fellowship of other Christians, accountability, the Word of God in our lives. All of those are right answers.
Let me this morning give you one other answer to that question – how do we change – and this is a very concrete step, it’s a very practical step, and you’re going to see here, I think, in the next minutes how it is at the very heart of this passage in Genesis 44. Nathan’s already alluded to this step. How do we change?
Here’s how. You and I must own our mistakes. Now there’s a lot else we could say, but that’s certainly one and it’s the issue in this chapter. Or let’s put it not just in generic terms, but in Christian terms. If we are to change, you and I must own our sins.
Yes, owning our mistakes is good, too, but there’s lots of ways to make mistakes that are just errors in judgment or the sort of things that happen as you just grow up and they’re not necessarily right or wrong, but you make mistakes.
A harder step is to own just things that oops, I got a question wrong on a test, but things about our character, about our heart, about our actions, that have hurt others, have been offensive to God. You and I must own our sins.
I mentioned two weeks ago that Genesis starts and ends with the story of brotherly conflict. Have you ever noticed that before? It’s not at the very, very start, but after you get through something of the prologue and the Creation and Fall in Genesis 1 through 3, you come to Genesis 4 and what’s right there? Brotherly conflict, Cain and Abel. And what’s at the end of Genesis? Brotherly conflict. Joseph and his 11 brothers.
The first brotherly conflict, the first family feud, ends in death. The last brotherly conflict, the family feud at the end of the book, ends in confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We’re meant to, there’s a lot of big things to see in Genesis, it’s about providence, it’s about blessing, it’s about promise, but here’s one other way – it’s about family drama. It’s about brothers fighting. The first one ends in death, the last one ends in forgiveness and reconciliation. The book is bookended in that way.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s a more elaborate pattern that I want you to see this morning, and to give credit where credit is due, I first saw this pattern, which I’ll show you in just a moment, in an article by Alex Lee and Jeffrey Harper in an academic journal called The Tyndale Bulletin. The article was called, “Dodging the Question.” You’ll see why it has that title in just a moment, from 2019.
Here’s what I want to show you this morning. Eight times in Genesis we have this Hebrew formula, this question. Here’s what it sounds like in Hebrew: mazoth asith. If you were to transliterate it imperfectly and you’re writing it out so you want to see what it looks like, m-a-h-z-o-t-h, mazoth, and the next word asith, a-s-i-t-h. What does that Hebrew phrase mean? Well, it means, “What have you done?” or “What is this you have done?”
We’ll walk through in just a moment and once you see, I think you’ll agree that this pattern is unmistakable, because seven times in Genesis God’s people are asked this question, in Hebrew, “Mazoth asith? What have you done? What is this you have done?” Seven times God’s people are asked this question and seven times they do not respond as they should.
But the eighth time is different. Now, I don’t know for certain if the number eight is intentional, God knows, but you’ve heard me say before, that eight is often a number of new creation, re-creation. In the New Testament Jesus is born on the first day of the new week, the eighth day. The sons were circumcised when? On the eighth day of the week. How many people were saved in the ark from God’s judgment? There were eight.
Well, on the eighth occasion, and there’s only eight of them in Genesis where we have this question, “Mazoth asith? What have you done?” finally God’s people respond as they should. And that’s here in chapter 44.
But if you have your Bibles open, I want to just walk through, and this is our very simple outline, just going to walk through these seven and then landing back in chapter 44 on the eighth, so you can see this pattern.
Go to Genesis 3:13. Here’s the very first occasion of this question. We’re back in the Garden, at the Fall, the sin of eating the fruit, and here’s what we read in verse 13, Genesis 3:13: ” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” Mazoth asith. What is this that you have done, and notice the woman’s response: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
So here’s the first time in Genesis this question is asked to a sinner, God’s people caught in sin and the response is to shift the blame.
Adam does the same thing: “Adam, what happened?” “Um, you gave this woman.” “Eve, what happened?” “Um, the serpent deceived.”
This happens all the time in human life, doesn’t it? We’re caught in our sin. What’s a very human instinct? To blame shift. Well, someone else let me down, someone treated me poorly, I didn’t have any other choice, someone led me down this path, it was my genes, it was my biology, it was my family, it was my school, it was my lack of opportunity. You shift – it’s someone else’s fault.
So the very first time when this question is asked, Eve shifts the blame.
Look at the second one. Turn to chapter 4. Chapter 4, verse 10. This is after Cain and Abel, Cain is angry because the Lord accepts Abel’s offering and not his ow, then Cain rose up and killed his brother. In verse 10, the Lord said, you’re going to recognize the question again, “The Lord said, “What have you done?” Mazoth asith. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood… When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to (you) its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.””
And now here is Cain’s response to the question: ““My punishment is greater than I can bear.””
So if the first response is to shift blame, the second response is to complain.
Now God had already come to Cain and Cain had lied, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper? I don’t know where he is.” Cain was angry and we saw in verse 7 the Lord had warned him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” He had an opportunity right there. He had that moment of temptation, he was angry, sin was crouching at the door, it was ready to devour him, and God said you have an opportunity now to turn back from this sin, you have an opportunity to do what’s right. But he didn’t, and he killed his brother. And when God comes to him and then says, “What is this that you have done?” his response is to protest, to complain. “Well, what have you done to me, God? Let’s turn the tables, God. You’re asking me the questions, but you’re not treating me fairly.”
Chapter 4, verse 10.
Turn to chapter 12, verse 18. Remember, if you’ve been here for months and years as we’ve gone through Genesis, that there are three different times where you have these sister stories, where Abraham twice and then Isaac once are in the presence of a foreign king and they’re afraid that they’re going to be killed because their wives are beautiful, even when they’re, you know, like 80 years old, there’s hope for all of us, and then they lie and they get caught and look what happens here.
Genesis 12:18: “So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me?” It’s another expression of this same Hebrew mazoth asith. “What have you done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your sister [sic]? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her and go.” And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.”
So here when he’s presented with his sin and this question, “What have you done?” Abraham simply leaves. Now, yes, he was ordered to leave, but notice Abraham does not confess. He does not return the dowry that he was given. There’s no acknowledgement that indeed he did deceive Pharaoh. He simply leaves. Isn’t this sometimes what we do when we’re caught in our sin?
Now obviously, I hope you can understand in all of these instances, these were God’s people who had actually sinned. It is possible to be falsely accused of sin, the devil is accuser. Other people can make allegations against us, maybe knowingly false or unknowingly false, and in that case sometimes it is the right thing to simply walk away. Romans 12: “In so far as it depends on you be at peace with all people.” Sometimes you can’t be at peace with all people. Paul and Barnabas had to separate for a season.
But here, clearly, Abraham was in the wrong. Isn’t this a familiar refrain when we’re caught in our sin? I just walk out the door. I’m through. I’m not listening anymore. I don’t want to have to deal with this. You can shift the blame like Eve, you can complain like Abel [sic], or you can simply walk away like Abraham does.
Go to chapter 20, verse 9. Here’s the fourth occasion. So this is another one of these stories, Abraham now with Abimelech, another foreign dignitary, and again with his wife, and again he lies and again his deception is revealed. Verse 9: “Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him,” mazoth asith, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’””
Well, what’s this? It’s rationalization. “Why did you do this, Abraham? You lied to me.” And Abraham rationalizes it, “Well, you know what you people are like. There’s no fear of God before your eyes.” And Abraham again has a technicality: “Well, she’s my half-sister.” Isn’t this what we do when we’re caught in our sin?
We’re not rational creatures nearly so much as we are rationalizing creatures. We’d like to think that we’re all just very clear and logical and we always just input all the facts and all of the material and we come to the right conclusions and if only other people were as rational as we are… But that’s now how the human psyche works. We rationalize what we already think. We find the anecdotes to confirm our way of seeing the world. That’s why it’s very, very hard to change, and we all have many, many ways to rationalize the things that we do.
So Abraham does here. He finds this technicality. Have you ever done that before? I know I have. Well, technically, you know, it really wasn’t cheating, it was just… I wasn’t stealing, it was sort of borrowing with not much of an intent to return… You have all sorts of euphemisms to describe your sin.
Notice here Abraham is rationalizing by saying, “Well, but you people can’t be trusted.” Have you ever had it when you try to confront someone in their sin and then what happens so often, you walk away from it and you think, “Well, why am I the bad guy now?” Because that’s what happens. It’s hard for all of us when we’re confronted with sin. One way to not deal with it is make other people the problem.
He says, “Abimelech, I mean, what did you expect? These people here in your kingdom. Ahh, they’d kill me.” He rationalizes it.
Go to chapter 26, verse 10. So here’s the fifth. And here again is one of these sister-wife stories, this time with Isaac lying to Abimelech, probably not the same Abimelech but a title for the king, much like Pharaoh is a title, and we read in 26, verse 10, “Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.””
And look what we read next in verse 12: “And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold.” He goes about his business. Isaac’s response, as far as we can tell, is silence.
Now like Abraham, he had already argued in verse 7, “Well, they might kill me” and verse 9, “Well, if I didn’t do this thing I might die.” But here it seems that he receives this word from Abimelech and we have no record of anything else. Just silence. And this is another way that we deal with sin when it’s revealed to us. Lalalalalalala, I can hear you but I’m not listening.
You give the appearance of agreement: “Hmm, yeah, yeah, interesting, really, yeah, I’m gonna think about that.” Whew, and you’re gone. You don’t want to think about that.
Silence. Isaac hears it and he’s out the door.
Turn to chapter 29:25. Here’s the sixth occasion of this pattern. It’s with Laban and Jacob. We read in verse 25: “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!” Remember, Laban had tricked Jacob and he had worked those years for Rachel but then in a drunken stupor and veiled very tightly and it ended up that he had laid with the other sister Leah. Jacob was duped. So, he “said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Mazoth asith. What have you done? And listen to what Laban says: “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.”
What’s this? It’s making excuses. And the excuse is of a certain kind. You notice he appeals to the local custom. This is how everyone does things.
“You don’t understand, Pastor, this is how everyone dresses when they’re my age. Pastor, you don’t understand, this is what you just have to do to make it in corporate America today. You don’t understand, this is how things work in my culture, in my family.”
That’s what Laban says, he makes excuses. It is not so done in our culture to give the younger instead of the older. That’s not the way we do it. So surely I was right to deceive you, to lie to you, to send to you to have sex with someone you didn’t even desire.”
He makes excuses.
And we see then, finally, in the seventh example, go to chapter 31. Now the tables are turned, another Jacob/Laban conflict. Chapter 31, verse 26. Jacob has left and he’s found a way to multiply his flocks and to leave with great abundance, “And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done?”” Mazoth asith, ““That you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly.””
And he goes on and on, and look at what Jacob says in verse 31: He “answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.””
It’s a counter accusation. And have you noticed in so many of these, you could actually make the case in every single one of these what’s motivating the inability to acknowledge their sin is fear. They’re afraid of Pharaoh or Abimelech or afraid here of Laban or afraid of their life. When we fear people instead of God, we do dumb things. That’s why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, because you’re going to fear someone or something, so you need to fear the right someone if you want to walk in the way of wisdom.
So Jacob gets an accusation from Laban, and this is so often the case when we get an accusation, what do we come back with? A counter accusation. Jacob essentially says, “Well, maybe, but you’re worse than me. Yeah, I had no choice because think of all the things you would have done to me.” You quickly turn back an offense on the one who is bringing up to you the offense.
Seven times God’s people get this question: What have you done? What is this thing you have done? And seven times they respond poorly. You could, you don’t need to even take a psych class, nothing wrong with doing that, but to understand human psychology just from the book of Genesis. Isn’t this all the ways that we deflect our mistakes and our sin? You shift blame, you complain, you leave, you rationalize, you get silent, you make excuses, you make counter accusations.
Seven times God’s people get this question and they answer wrongly.
Then there is an eighth time, which brings us back to chapter 44. Look at chapter 44, verse 15. Again we have the Hebrew mazoth asith, 44:15. “Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done?” What deed is this that you have done?
I argued before that you can look at Joseph as if he’s just on a vindictive warpath and he just wants to give his brothers a taste of their own medicine and you made me hurt and I’m gonna make you hurt, but I don’t think that’s what Joseph is doing. Joseph is depicted as a noble character in Egypt. Remember, it’s the only person in the book of Genesis who is said to be filled with the spirit. No, I think there’s a method to his seeming madness. Yes, he wants the brothers to experience and to put themselves back where he was, but he does it to test them, to bring them finally to this point where they can recognize what they had done.
He put in their sacks a silver cup. They said it was a cup, or maybe a bowl, for divination. There’s lots of this in ancient Egyptian texts. You probably put oil and water and how the two would mix or not mix together would give you a yes or no. It was the equivalent of your Magic 8 Ball that you buy at the gas station, that’s what they were doing.
But it was silver. Valuable.
Do you remember the price for Joseph in the cistern in chapter 37? It was silver. They sold Joseph for silver, now he means to trap them with silver. The whole plan is to get them to reflect on what they did all those many years ago. Many years ago, Joseph is thinking, you left a brother to rot in a pit and sold off into slavery. That’s what you did. You hung your own brother out to dry. What will you do this time with your brother? That’s what he’s leading them to see.
Now they don’t yet know that he’s Joseph. But Joseph knows he’s Joseph. And he knows what they did. And now he wants them to see, what will you do? You had this decades ago with your father’s son, jealous, angry, threw him into a pit, sold him off for silver. Now, when you have another brother who’s on the verge of being killed or again put into servitude because of this silver, what will you do?
And here finally, the eighth time in Genesis, we have this question, “What you done?” finally God’s people respond as they ought. And what do they do? They own it, that’s what they do.
Judah in particular. Reuben was the oldest, Judah was the fourth, but Reuben has been somewhat cast aside, sin with his father’s concubine. Remember the seedy story about Judah in chapter 38? Yeeee, don’t even want to talk about that. With Tamar. Well, now all these years later, Judah is showing himself to be the leader of his brothers, and he gives here in chapter 44 the longest speech in Genesis, and it’s a masterful speech of owning your sin.
What do we do when we own our sin? Two things – we acknowledge wrong, and we make it right. We acknowledge wrong, we make it right.
Look at what Judah does. Verse 16. He gets asked the question, “What have you done?” verse 16, “Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants.”” It’s very likely that he’s not just confessing the silver cup. In fact, he may not be confessing the silver cup at all, because he’s already seen once that they got the money back in their sack and they hadn’t done anything wrong and now it happened again. We’re not sure if he really thinks that Benjamin had done this, or somehow he probably figures that somehow God is punishing us. That’s what he thinks, “I don’t know this happened, but obviously God is punishing us.” So when he says our guilt has been found out, he’s not just thinking, “Ehh, man, Benjamin, uuhh uuhh, little brother, how could you do this?” He’s thinking God has somehow in this mysterious way placed this cup and our guilt, this guilty conscience we’ve lived with for 20 years, has finally come out. God is now repaying us for our sins that we did all those years ago to our brother Joseph.
God has found out the guilt of your servant. He doesn’t blame. He doesn’t protest. He acknowledges his wrong,
When is the last time you have said something like that? To one another, or even in a moment of quiet prayer to God? God has found out my guilt. I have no one to blame. I will not protest. I will not accuse. I will not rationalize. I will not make excuses. What I did was wrong and I am guilty.
It may even be that in your life, it’s not to say that other people might not also be guilty. Usually when we sin, it’s caught in a web of all sorts of sin and it may be that you sinned and many other people also sinned against you and that’s not to excuse what they did, but here in owning what he did, Judah says, “God has found out. Here’s the one word I have to describe our state – guilty.”
I can multiply example after example, but you can find them as easily as I can. Anytime, almost anytime someone famous is caught in some sin, politician, movie star, athlete, pastor. So often the confession is a halfway house. When you “confess” your sins, and I put confession in quotation marks, are you doing it as a halfway house? You have to ask yourself, “Am I trying to be right with God or am I trying to manage the situation?” because often those public apologies are very clearly trying to manage an unpleasant situation, and acknowledge “mistakes were made and something happened,” but couch it in all sorts of language and give all of the extenuating circumstances as to how tired you were and what a difficult season it was, and make all of the sort of apparatus to make it not look so bad rather than doing what Judah did, guilty, guilty.
When you own your sin, you acknowledge you’re wrong and then look at, you make it right. It has to be more than words. If there is someone you need to repay, physically, financially repay, or in some other way, you need to repay. If there are some consequences you need to face, you need to face it. If there’s a hard conversation you need to have to make it right, you need to have it.
Judah was willing to make things right at great cost to himself. Remember back in chapter 37, Judah was the one responsible for Joseph being sold into slavery. Now it was in a way sort of a good move, at least he wasn’t killed, but it was Judah’s idea, chapter 37, verses 26 and 27, to sell him into slavery in the first place, and now Judah says, “I will be your slave.” He offers to be Joseph’s slave that Benjamin might go free. Judah is a changed man.
Don’t you want to change? Like Judah? And let me ask the question another way. Do you allow that people in your life might change as much as Judah changed? Sometimes that’s the harder part. We get people, “No, you’ll never be any different.” Yes, there are consequences for sin, yes, it takes a long time, yes, sometimes even the relationship is irreparably broken. But do you allow that people can actually change?
Judah has changed. He had engineered the selling of Joseph when the brothers were envious and spiteful, and now he leads the way as the brothers are contrite and generous. He owns his sin and he says to Joseph, “I will do whatever it takes to make it right. Look, if I go back, my father is dead. So please, would you let Benjamin go back and I’ll stay, I’ll give my life, I’ll be your slave.”
It’s a masterful speech. It’s a speech that only can come from a man who’s been deeply changed.
Did you notice, here in conclusion, he not only owns his sin, but he asks for mercy. Now it isn’t so explicit, “Now please forgive me my sins, and O God, against You only.” It’s not Psalm 51. But make no mistake, he asks for mercy. There are two key words in this speech. Remember, the longest speech in the book of Genesis. There are two key words – servant and father.
The word “servant” he uses 10 times, and it’s no doubt a way of Judah emphasizing your servant, my father, I’m your servant, we’re your servants. There’s a place of supplication. You have authority over me, I’m not coming to tell you what to do, you’re the master, you’re the lord, I’m a servant.
Surely there’s a lesson for us when we come to God. You come to God to own your sin. Not to make demands, not to tell God what He has to do, I’m just a servant.
And then the other key word is “father.” Fourteen times he uses the word “father.” He starts the speech with father and he ends the speech in verse 34, “I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” He appeals to Joseph’s charity. Over and over, he reinforces this. “You’re going to kill my father.” That’s why he goes into great detail. He recounts the whole story, back and forth, we’ve already heard it before. Why so much detail? He says the word “father” 14 times. This is about my father; do you want to kill him? And implicitly it’s a plea: Would you be gracious to me for the sake of Benjamin, for the sake of my father, and do what you have to do to me in order that they may live?
Now Judah was actually guilty. And yet what a remarkable display of transformation. It’s the first time in the Bible that one man offers his life in the exchange for another.
Now I hope it’s not too hard to start making these connections. If Judah, who was actually guilty of the crime, and not just this crime but we saw in chapter 37 heinous sins, if Judah, who is a guilty sinner was able to give his life as a substitute that Benjamin might go free, how much more can the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten beloved Son of the Father, give His life for us that we would not have to be slaves anymore?
Judah says, “For the sake of my brother, would you bring the punishment upon me?” In the same way, Hebrews tells us Jesus had to be made like His brothers in every respect except for sin in order that He might give His life for the sake of His sinful brothers. If Judah was a substitute for Benjamin, how much more can Jesus be a substitute for you?
This is the glorious paradox of Christianity. I hope you’re listening, whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life or you know deep down you’re not a Christian, because here’s the wonderful truth of Christianity, and it’s a truth that is only good news for those who have the ears to hear it. Listen, if you pretend your sin does not exist, and that’s what some of you are doing, going through life just I don’t want to hear, nope, all of the things we saw, rationalize, make excuses, counter accusation, blame, I don’t want to have to deal with it. If you pretend your sin doesn’t exist, it will haunt you all your life. You’ll hurt a lot of people, including yourself, not knowing what to do with that sin.
If you pretend your sin doesn’t exist, it will haunt you all your life. But here’s the glorious message of Christianity: Own your sin, and Jesus takes it from you.
You acknowledge it, you say I’m willing to do whatever I can to make it right on a horizontal level, and God says, “That’s enough. You own it, I take it.” You pretend you don’t have it, you have to live with it the rest of your life.
If you and I are ever going to change, whether you’re 8, 18, 38, 88, if you’re ever going to change, you have to own your sin and know that God will forgive and give grace and change.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word, and we pray that You would help us. There are no doubt people here, this is exactly what they are dealing with this morning, so help us to see it, help me to see it in my own life, and then to know the great grace that is ours when You awaken us and forgive us and by Your blood set us free. In Jesus we pray. Amen.