In this Bible study we continue reflecting on the life of Joseph in Genesis.
Joseph tries to initiate his reconciliation with his brothers by having a dinner. This has a major connection with The Last Supper of Jesus, where Heaven takes the initiative to reconcile with human beings by having a dinner. In Revelations 3:20 God says, “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Joseph’s dinner is therefore very important because it is a symbol of reconciliation. That is why the moment Joseph saw all his brothers, including Benjamin, he decided to kill an animal; to offer a sacrifice, and then have dinner. Similarly, in the Eucharist we have a sacrifice of the Lamb of God and a dinner.
Genesis 44 is a ‘dangerous’ chapter because it tells us that any sin that we commit will come after us. Whether we like it or not, it will have its effect on us. If we have hurt anybody, if we have destroyed anyone’s life, we have the tendency to want to escape from them by keeping a distance from them. If one has done something in the UK, for instance, they might escape to the US or Africa or India and think they are away from the situation. It’s true that physically they are away from the situation, but spiritually, it is a bondage, as long as there is hatred, anger and lack of reconciliation and repentance.
A chapter only Jesus can close
Examine your conscience and see if you have done any injustice against anybody in the past, at any time from the age when you began to have knowledge of good and evil. If we have done any injustice or anything evil, remember, it will come after us. We will have to pay the price somewhere in our lifetime. This applies not only to injustice that is done to others, but also injustice done to ourselves in our body, and to our actions towards our family members as well.
Sometimes we think that it’s a closed chapter. You may have closed it, but spiritually speaking, only God can close any chapter. No human being can close any chapter. Even if we want to close it, it is impossible to close.
How can God close the chapter? Jesus died for us on Mt. Calvary. Through His blood He washes all the scars of our sins, then closes the chapter. Since only He can close it, we need to repent about our past sins.
Peace in the midst of injustice
Joseph was a victim of injustice. His ten brothers cheated him, betrayed him, threw him into the pit, tried to kill him, sold him. But God protected him. Joseph went through loneliness, crisis, anxiety, anguish, and he was a slave. He went through bitter experiences, he was misunderstood, he was cheated, and he was imprisoned. He went through lots of struggles for almost 20 years.
But God was always with him. God always protected him. Therefore even in the midst of all this suffering, he was at peace inside. He was at peace also because he never hated his brothers. How do we know this? Because we never see him complaining against his brothers—in front of the king, in front of Potiphar, in front of his friends in prison, he never spoke against his brothers. That’s a clear sign he never hated his brothers.
So God gave him prosperity and blessings. After all the suffering, he became the prime minister of Egypt.
Changed through tough circumstances
But what happened to his ten brothers who sold him? All through the years they were living with guilt, they were slaves of their own guilt feeling, they were never happy. They were always going through a tough time. And now, 20 years after their most mischievous act, they are going through the toughest time of their lives. From the day they decided to come to Egypt, they are always in crisis. And God permits them to go through this experience.
As a result, you can see a change of behaviour in them. Twenty years before, they were not afraid to lie in front of Jacob. Twenty years before they told Jacob, that Joseph had been eaten by an animal, and they brought Joseph’s clothes to Jacob and asked him if they were his son’s clothes? And Jacob said “yes” and started crying. This son of Jacob whom they sold was their own brother, but they never had any pain for that brother. They were not ready to save that brother. They were not worried about the pain of their father. We know from the Bible that only Jacob cried, only Jacob had pain, only Jacob was tearing off his clothes.
That was 20 years ago. But now these ten bothers are experiencing all that Joseph went through—turmoil, anguish, crisis, tension, imprisonment, being doubted, being questioned, being mistreated and treated like a slave, bowing down in front of the master despite their family background. But we can notice some changes in their behaviour. Now they are changed because the circumstance made them change. The Lord arranged every circumstance in a way that they had no option but to change.
Maybe 20 years ago we too were rough and tough, very rude and cruel; our character may have been so bad. But God will make sure we are changed. God will allow us to be in circumstances or situations in which we have no choice but to change; because otherwise we will never change. These brothers had no plan of repentance. They had never told the truth even after 20 years. God had given them 20 years to repent and they did not repent. They did not correct their mistakes; they went on hiding the truth and lying to their father. That is why God made them to go through a tough time after 20 years; a time of severe pain and terrible experiences.
In the Bible, God gave chances to many people to change. When David committed adultery with Bethsheba, God gave him many chances to repent. He waited almost 9 months, and still David was not ready to repent. Only after the birth of the baby did God correct him. He lost his son and went through a painful experience that made him cry. Anyone who doesn’t repent of their past sin may have to go through a painful experience. It is better to repent now than to wait until we are led through painful experiences.
Our sins come back on us
After dinner with his brothers, Joseph is entering into the last moment before revealing his identity to his brothers, but he’s allowing them to go through one more test. Joseph is not willingly doing the test; rather, God is making him do it. It’s not that Joseph is taking revenge on them; he has no vengeful feelings but only pain for them. That’s why he keeps going and crying in another room then comes out and shows a different face to them. On the inside he is crying, full of affection and love, but outwardly, God is making him to behave in a way that will lead his brothers to repent. Sometimes even good people will be tough with us because God wants to change us. Even the holiest people will behave very tough with us because God permits this so that we may be changed; so that we may be purified. It is not the mistake of the person behaving tough, but our mistake. There is something that we need to change.
“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” (Genesis 44:1). Joseph is so gracious and merciful. He is giving them plenty of food and returning their money. But his brothers don’t understand him as merciful; instead they understand him as rough and tough. Sometimes we don’t understand God, even when He is so merciful and compassionate. We think God is not showing his mercy to us, that He is very strict with us, not loving, that He is hiding His face from us.
“‘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” (Genesis 44:2). Joseph tells the steward to put his own favourite cup, his own royal cup, into Benjamin’s sack. Benjamin is the one Joseph loves very much, the one who is innocent. This is a clear sign that Joseph is not acting in revenge, but guided by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is doing something in this action through Joseph, but Joseph is not aware of it. If it were revenge, he would not have it put in the sack of Benjamin, the brother he loves the most.
“When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup?’” (Genesis 44:4). Joseph is planning everything so that his brothers will be caught in a very difficult situation. A very painful situation. But not out of revenge. Joseph is not that kind of person. It happened because the brothers were evil people. God is changing them, testing them, purifying them. Remember that if we are tough and rough characters, we will go through the roughest of experiences in our lives.
“‘Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this’” (Genesis 44:5). Egyptian royalty used to engage in the superstitious practice of divination using a cup, so they thought Joseph did this too. But do you really think Joseph, a Hebrew man who believed in Yahweh, was engaging in divination? This statement is made to make the brothers believe that Joseph is truly Egyptian.
“When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing!” (Genesis 44: 6-7). The brothers are in a helpless situation. But remember that about 22 years prior, Joseph was pleading before them in the same way, asking: Why are you doing this? Why do you throw me into the pit? Please save me. What did I do to you? I am so innocent. It’s the same cry that Joseph cried 22 years before. Now the ten brothers are crying this same cry before Joseph. Remember, your sin will always come back on your own head.
“Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?” (Genesis 44:8). It is very interesting to note that the brothers trusted each other. They didn’t suggest that anyone’s sack be checked because they believed completely that none of them would take anything belonging to the royal family. “Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” (Genesis 44:9).
He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.” (Genesis 44:10).This was a more generous offer from the steward than what they had proposed, a sign that it is all planned.
“Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.” (Genesis 44:11-12).It was a very painful discovery. Per their promise, Benjamin should die and the rest of them should become slaves. Per the stewards promise, only Benjamin need become a slave, and the rest could go free.
Tough experiences purify us
“At this they tore their clothes. Then each one loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13).In reality none of them goes free. They are weeping and tearing their clothes, in so much pain. Remember that 22 years prior, when one of their brothers had been sold as a slave, they had peacefully left the place. But now, when one of their brothers is to become a slave, they leave with great difficulty, crying as if someone has died, in so much pain. The changes have already taken place in them. They are purified.
They are free to go and meet their father, but they are afraid to go and tell him what has happened because they are worried that he will die. So they are ready to come back to Joseph and plead in front of him. They are getting changed. No wonder God permitted all these tough times in their lives.
When we have tough times in our lives, we will bow down before God. If we are living an evil life and continue without experiencing any tough times, we become more and more evil. Such a situation is dangerous for us because we may lose God once and for all, and God knows this. That is why if we are tough with God, God allows tough experiences in our lives. We should make sure we don’t do any harm to anyone, so that we will be dealt with peaceably by God Himself. God gives us lots of chances to repent.
“Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him” (Genesis 44:14). All eleven brothers came back to Joseph and they bowed before him for the third time. This was what Joseph had seen in his dream 22 years before. “Joseph said to them, ‘What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?’” Joseph is saying this to make them believe that he is really an Egyptian.
And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found” (Genesis 44:16). For the first time, Judah is confessing his old sin as well as his brothers’ sin; not about stealing the cup—for they know that this is a mistake—but they remembered what they did 22 years before. He is helpless now. He is in a situation where he cannot hide this secret any more.
If we try to hide any serious crime, any sinful habit, we will be put in a position where we can no longer hide it and we will have to open it up, at least in front of God, and confess it to Him and say “Forgive me Lord, I was so bad, I did these things, and now it is backfiring on me.” This is why Judah said “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” Until then they thought God had not seen it; that God did not remember it. But now that they are in the same situation that Joseph was 22 years before, they have come to know that God was watching them; that the sin they committed is coming back on them. Because 22 years before, they made their brother a slave in Egypt, now they themselves, all of them, have become slaves in Egypt. Our sins will follow us. Numbers 22:33 says, “But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.”
In Sirach 27:10 we read, “A lion lies in wait for prey; so does sin for evildoers.”
Proverbs 22:8 “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.”
Confession and repentance set us free
Psalm 7:14 “See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. For 22 years Joseph’s ten brothers continuously lied to their father. They never told the truth to anyone. But after 22 years they are now confessing in front of Joseph himself that they are found guilty by God. “They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made” Psalm 7:15. All those who are carrying mischief inside, all those who are hiding their sins without confession, without repentance, are digging a pit and falling into the same pit.
Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends” Psalm 7:16. On their own heads, not on their neighbours’ heads, violence will descend.
That’s what has happened to Joseph’s brothers, and therefore, Judah, confesses and repents on behalf of all of them. Joseph says that only Benjamin should stay, the rest can go. “But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17). If this had happened 22 years before, they would have gone. After all, Benjamin is the favourite, always favoured and loved by their father. They could tell their father they lost him. But the ten are not ready to leave now, because they are changed.
Then Judah steps up and makes a prayer which is one of the most emotional prayers in the Bible; one that can cause anyone who reads with understanding to shed tears:
“Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with 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; 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, so 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 see my face no more.’
“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. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we 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 comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’
“Now therefore, when 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, when 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 surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; 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 suffering that would come upon my father” (Genesis 44:18-34).
This is Judah’s long pleading prayer in front of Joseph. You know what happened as soon as Joseph heard this pleading, painful cry? He lost all control and cried bitterly in front of his brothers.
Let us examine our conscience and see if we have anything we need to confess. If you have hurt anyone in the past, repent, pray for them and do penances, otherwise calamity will come back on our own heads. Besides repenting, we need to rectify the mistakes that we have made; this is compulsory for our spiritual growth.