Joseph"s Brethren Under Trial
Joseph had spoken roughly to his brethren, whom he knew, though they knew not him. He had declared unto them, by the life of Pharaoh, that they should not go forth from his presence, except their youngest brother came with them. Having heard Joseph"s decision, they began to reproach one another. They said, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." And Reuben turned the whole thing upon them in a very pointed reproach. He said, "Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required." Joseph understood their speech, though they did not understand the speech of Joseph, because he spake unto them through an interpreter. The interview having come to this point, Joseph turned himself about from his brethren and wept. Harsh experience need not destroy the finest sensibility, the tenderest feelings of the heart. Here is a man who has had twenty years" very painful, almost unendurable, treatment; and yet, at the end of that period, he is susceptible of the tenderest influences, responds emotionally, with tears, with unutterable yearning and tenderness of soul, in the presence of his brethren, and the mute appeal which was involved in that presence. There is something for us to learn here. Our harsh experiences often deaden our sensibility, work in us a sourness of heart and feeling which becomes misanthropic, selfish, resentful. We learn from the history before us that it is possible to be exiled from home, ill-treated by relatives and friends, thrown into the way of pain, sorrow, loss and desolation; yet to come out of the whole process tender, sensitive, responsive to appeals which are made to our nature. Why, there are some men who cannot overget the very slightest offence. If they have not their own way in everything, they show their resentfulness in a thousand little ways,—they become peevish, censorious, distrustful, ungenial. You never meet them but they give you to understand that they have been insulted, offended, dishonoured. They have had to endure slight, or contempt, or neglect. How little, how unutterably paltry, such men appear in the presence of the man who, after twenty years of exile, solitude, evil treatment of all kinds, weeps when he sees his brethren,—keeps his heart through it all,—has not allowed himself to become soured or misanthropic! He keeps a whole, tender, responsive heart through all the tumult, and trial, and agony, and bitter sorrow of thirteen years" vile captivity, and seven years of exaltation which might, by the very surprise it involved, and the very suddenness with which it came, have over-balanced the man"s mind and given him false views of himself. If he was great, why should not we be great? If he could keep a whole heart through it all, why should we allow our moral nature to be frittered and dribbled away? Why should we become less, instead of greater, notwithstanding the evils we have to endure, and the difficulties which press upon us on every side? This is a great question, calling men to devout consideration, and to a searching and complete review of their moral position.
After the lapse of many years, Joseph, on seeing his brethren, wept. Why, he might have been vengeful. It is easy for us glibly to read the words, "Joseph" turned himself about and wept." But consider what the words might have been! We oftentimes see results, not processes. We do not see how men have had to bind themselves down, crucify themselves—hands, feet, head, and side—and undergo death in the presence of God, before they could look society in the face with anything like benignity, and gentleness, and forgiveness. What the words might have been! Joseph, when he saw his brethren, might have said, "Now I have you! Once you put me into a pit,—I shall shake you over hell; once you sold me,—I will imprison you and torture you day and night; you smote me with whips,—I shall scourge you with scorpions! It shall be easier to go through a circle of fire than to escape my just and indignant vengeance today!" He might have said, "I shall operate upon the law: A tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye." That is the law of nature; that is elementary morality. It is not vengeance, it is not resentment; it is alphabetic justice—justice at its lowest point—incipient righteousness. It is not two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth; but an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth a blow for a blow, a pit for a pit, selling for selling, and so on. A great many men are perfectly content with elementary morality and alphabetic justice. People do not educate themselves from this kind of righteousness into Christian nobility of disposition. It is not a question of education; it is a question of sanctification. Few men can rise beyond mere justice. Many men find in mere justice all the moral satisfaction which their shallow natures require; they cannot see that mercy is the very highest point in justice, and that, when a man stoops to forgive, he becomes a prince, and a king, and a crowned ruler in the house and kingdom of God. It requires all that God can do to teach men this: that there is something higher than the law of retaliation; that forgiveness is better than resentment, and that to release men is oftentimes—if done from moral considerations and not from moral indifference—the highest form of Christian justice. But revenge is sweet! I am afraid that some of us like just a little revenge; not that we would ourselves personally and directly inflict it; but, if our enemies could, somehow or another, be tripped up, and tumble half-way at least into a pit, we should not feel that compunction, and sorrow, and distress of soul which, sentimentally, appears to be so very fine and beautiful. Nothing but God the Holy Ghost can train a man to this greatness of answering the memory of injury with tears, and accepting processes in which men only appear to have a part as if God, after all, had been over-ruling and directing the whole scheme.
"And Joseph turned himself about from them, and wept." Afterwards he left their presence and went into his chamber and wept. Think of the secret sorrows of men! The tears did not flow in the presence of the ten men. The tears were shed in secret. We do not know one another altogether, because there is a private life. There are secret experiences. Some of us are two men. Joseph was two men. He spake roughly unto his brethren. He put it on; he assumed roughness for the occasion. But if you had seen him when he had got away into his secret chamber, no woman ever shed hotter, bitterer tears than streamed from that man"s eyes. We do not know one another altogether. We come to false conclusions about each other"s character and disposition. Many a time we say about men, "they are very harsh, rough, abrupt"; not knowing that they have other days when their very souls are dissolved within them; that they can suffer more in one hour than shallower natures could endure in an eternity. Let us be hopeful about the very worst of men. Some men cannot cry in public. Some men are, unfortunately, afflicted with coarse, harsh voices, which get for them a reputation for austerity, unkindliness, ungeniality. Other men are gifted with fairness and openness of countenance, gentleness and tunefulness of voice. When they curse and swear it seems as though they were half praying, or just about to enter into some religious exercise. When they speak, when they smile, they get a reputation for being very amiable men, yet they do not know what amiability is. They have no secret life. They weep for reputation; they make their tears an investment for a paltry renown. We do not want all our history to be known. We are content for men to read a little of what they see on the outside, and they profoundly mistake that oftentimes. But the secret history, the inner room of life, what we are and what we do when we are alone, no man can ever tell,—the dearest, truest, tenderest friend can never understand. Do not let us treat Joseph"s tears lightly. Under this feeling there are great moral principles and moral impulses. The man might have been stern, vengeful, resentful. Instead of that, he is tender as a forgiving sister. When he looks he yearns, when he listens to their voices all the gladness and none of the bitterness of his old home comes back again on his soul.
"And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us? And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man"s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid" ( Genesis 42:28, Genesis 42:35).
What mistaken views we take about what is called the commonplaces of life! Some of us are often discontented because of the insipidity of our existence. To-day so like yesterday, and tomorrow will be but a repetition of today. We are always wanting something to happen. We say, If anything would but occur today to stir the stagnant pool of our life! We want to get out of old ruts and ordinary modes. Here are men to whom something had happened, and they were afraid! We could not live sensationally. Men can bear shocks and sensations only now and then. In life there must be great breadths of commonplace and ordinariness. We could not stand a shock every day. It is enough, now and then, to be stimulated and shaken out of what is common and usual, and what has come, by reason of its commonness, to be under-valued and contemned.
They were afraid when they saw their money in their sacks. See the possibility of mercies being turned into judgments,—of the very goodness of God striking us in the heart,—of mercy itself smiting us as with the rod of wrath. How can this be so? When the moral nature is wrong, when man"s conscience tells him that he has no right to this or that privilege or enjoyment, when man is divided against himself, when he has justly written bitterness against his own memory and his own nature altogether,—then his very bread becomes bitter in his mouth, and the sunlight of God is a burning judgment upon his life. Naturally, one would have said that, when the men saw their money in the sacks, saw that it had been planned, that it was not an accidental thing,—being in one sack and not in another, but being in every man"s sack,—when they saw order, regularity, scheme in the whole thing,—they might have said, "We are glad: we have been kindly and nobly treated by the men of Egypt; we are thankful for their consideration." Yet, when they saw the money, they would not have been more surprised if a scorpion had erected itself out of a sack and aimed to strike them in the face. A time will come to bad men when even God"s mercies will trouble them, when the light of the day will be a burden to their eyes, and when the softest music will be more unendurable than the most terrible thunder. Bad men have no right to mercies. Bad souls have no right to be in the pastures of God"s richness of love and mercy and compassion. They feel themselves out of place, or they will do so. Altogether, sirs, it is a bad look-out for bad men! They cannot find rest anywhere. Put them in the very finest pastures you can find, and there will arise one day in their hearts this accusation: You have no right to be here; your place is in the sandy desert. Put them in the sandy desert, and the very wilderness will be filled with discontent and unrest until the bad men get out of it. Altogether the universe will not want them. God will turn his back upon them! There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
See, further, how small things can upset man"s enjoyment, man"s pleasure and satisfaction in life. Here is a paltry handful of money in each man"s sack, and because of the event there is no rest in the house of Israel that day. Life does not turn upon great events and sublime circumstances. Life, after all, has in it great breadths of repetition. One day is very much like another. It is upon little wheels that great things turn. We undervalue little things. The young man does not care to live today, because nothing great or sublime is occurring. He does not know that his very life is hung upon a little thread; that his breath is in his nostrils; that one element thrown into the air he breathes will destroy his animal existence, and that life is such a delicately constructed affair that little things will increase our joy a millionfold, or will utterly consume and destroy our pleasure. How, then, can I get mastery over this life? I don"t want to be it the mercy of these little things that occur every day. Is there no means by which I could have a sceptre of rulership and symbol of mastery? Is there no way to the throne, seated on which, I could be calm amid tumult, rich amid loss, hopeful in the midst of disappointment, strong and restful when great things all about me are shaking and tottering to the fall? Yes, there is a way. A way to independence, and mastery, and peace. What is that way? It has a thousand names, but call it now—Fellowship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He who sits—through the mercy of the Most High—on the throne of God, sees all things from God"s point of view. He does not grapple with mere details: is not lost amid a thousand mazy ways, but sees the processes of life in their scope, their unity, and their whole moral significance. "Great peace have they that love thy law." "O, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." This alone can give a man steadiness, composure, childlike assurance, and saintly triumph amid breaking fortunes, vanishing enjoyments and comforts, and cause him to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." When he hath brought his work to an end, I shall praise him for the mercy of his judgments, and for the gentleness of his rod.
"And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me. And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave" ( Genesis 42:36, Genesis 42:38).
An old Prayer of Manasseh, who does not know what he is talking about! What does the oldest and best man amongst us know about life? Jacob is writing a list of his grievances and misfortunes and distresses, and God"s angels are looking down upon him and saying that the whole statement, though it is one of what men call facts, is a mistake from beginning to end. Think of a man writing his life, and of God"s writing the same life in a parallel column! Now old Israel is perfectly correct, so far as the story is known to himself. Jacob their father said, "Me have ye bereaved of my children." That is right. "Joseph is not" That is perfectly true, so far as Jacob is concerned, so far as his information extends. "And Simeon is not" That also is literally correct, so far as the absence of Simeon may be regarded. "And ye will take Benjamin away." Precisely Song of Solomon, that is the very thing they have in view. "All these things are against me." It is exactly the same with us today. Men do not know what they say when they use words. They do not know the full meaning of their own expressions. They will always snatch at first appearances and pronounce judgment upon incomplete processes. Every day I afflict myself with just the same rod. I know what a fool I am for doing Song of Solomon, and yet I shall do it again tomorrow. There comes into a man"s heart a kind of grim comfort when he has scourged himself well; when he knows all the while that ten thousand errors are accusing him of a repetition of his folly.
There are men who do not know their own family circumstances, yet they have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon the Infinite! Some men are very familiar with the Infinite, and have a wonderful notion of their power of managing God"s concerns. We seem at home when we go from home. Here is an old man saying, "Joseph is not, Simeon is not, Benjamin is to be taken away. All these things are against me." Yet we who have been in a similar position, though the circumstances have been varied, have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon God"s way in the world, God"s government, God"s purposes. Why do we not learn from our ignorance? Why do we not read the book of our own folly, and learn that we know nothing, being children of yesterday? We cannot rise to that great refinement of learning, it would appear. Every day we repeat our follies. It is but a man here and there who has a claim to a reputation for religious wisdom.
How life depends upon single events! We may say, The old man"s life is bound up in the life of Benjamin. There are individuals without whom the world would be cold and poor to us all. You may say, He is but one of ten thousand, let him go,—she is but one of a million, why care so much for her? We live in ones and twos. We cannot live in a countless population. We live in an individual heart, a special individual, personal love and trust. I cannot carry immensity! I can only carry a heartful of love. There are men today who would not care to look at the sun again if they lost that dear little child of theirs; men who look at everything through the medium of an only daughter, or an only son; who would not care for spring, and summer, and golden autumn; for fortune, position, influence, or renown, if that one ewe lamb were taken away. Life may be focalised to one point of interest, impulse, desire, and purpose. A man"s life may be centred upon one individual existence.
Let us understand, however, that Jacob does not begin his sorrow with the possible taking away of Benjamin. This is the last sorrow of a series. That is how some of us are worn down in soul, and heart, and hope. It is not because you have had taken away one thing; but because that one thing happens to be the last of a series. The great hammer that fell on a block of marble and shivered it,—did that blow shiver it? No. It was blow upon blow, repercussion. No one stroke did it, though the last appeared to accomplish the purpose. Some of you have had many sorrows. You think you cannot bear the sorrow that is now looking at you through the dark, misty cloud. You are saying, "I should pray God to be spared that sorrow. I have had six troubles: I cannot bear the seventh." Not knowing that the seventh trouble is the last step into heaven! Is there no answer to this difficulty of human life that will give satisfaction to souls? There is one answer. There is a Comforter which liveth for ever. I would not teach—God forbid that I should ever so far lose my humanity as to teach; for a man can only teach well in proportion as he is a man—that we should be indifferent about children and friends, the hearts that we love. I do not want to grow into an independence of human regard, and human trust, and human love; I do not care to be lifted up into such a position of hazy, heartless sentimentality as to be able to let friend after friend die, and care nothing for the loss. That is not Christianity; that is a species of the lowest beasthood. There may be men who can see grave after grave opened, and friend after friend put in and covered away, and shed never a tear or feel never a pang of the heart. I would hope there are no such men. I do not teach that Christianity enables us to destroy our feeling, to crush our sensibility, and to be indifferent under the pressure of sorrow. But Christianity does enable us to see the whole of a case. Christianity comes to a man in his greatest losses, and troubles, and bereavements, and says to him, amid his tears, and regrets, and passionate bewailings, "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." Christianity teaches that death is but a variation of life; that the grave is not the full stop in the difficult literature of human existence; that when we put away from us the dearest and best things that belong to our hearts, God will bring them back again to us multiplied in strength, and beauty, and freshness.
Some of us require most varied and prolonged humiliation before we are prepared for the highest honours of our life. All these arrangements and tests on the part of Joseph tended towards the humiliation and the penitence of his brethren. He might instantly have said, "I am Joseph"! They could not have borne it At once he might have said, "Brethren, I forgive you all." He might thus have done more harm than good. The men required to be tested. They had no right or title to any consideration that came before they were put to scrutiny and criticism. God has a long process with some of us. He has to take away the firstborn child, and the last-born, and all between. He has to come in, time after time, and turn the cradle upside down. He has to wither our business, blight our fortunes, and smite us with sore disease. He has to foil our purposes, break up our schemes, turn our counsel back upon us, and confound us at every point, until we begin to say, What does all this mean? He has to make us afraid by day; he has to trouble us by night; he has to turn even his mercies into judgments, before he can bring us to say solemnly, with meaning, This must have some religious intent. What does God purpose by all this various discipline?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 42". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent