Joseph and His Brethren

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Joseph, the man so greatly honored at the end, could well say, "I fear God," for it was what had characterized him all through, and was only the echo of his first recorded words spoken in Egypt when he met the tempter with, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Gen. 39:99There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9). Joseph's brethren thoroughly lacked this kind of fear; Joseph sought to create it. Then they were boldly protesting their rectitude and faithfulness-that they were true men—and pleading innocence to such a gross charge as being "spies." He told them that he feared God, bringing them into His presence who is light, and their darkness was immediately revealed, their consciences reached, and real fruit produced. What a change! what a contrast! "We are true men" is the language of verse 11; "We are verily guilty" is the confession of verse 21. Greater extremes there could not be—"true," or "guilty"—it is the bringing in of God that made the difference. What a state was theirs! conscience awakened and reproving, and one of themselves soon found reproaching—Reuben Answered... Spake I not unto you saying, Do not sin against the child?" And matters would only grow worse till all was out in the presence of Joseph. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do"; but before there is communion, the sins or failures must be admitted or confessed. These men had to do with one who knew their history and sin; but of communion with him they knew nothing till their consciences were reached, and he had revealed himself, and all their sin being admitted, was forgiven.
What cowards had bad consciences made of these wretched men! Their asses were laden with corn, and provision was given them for the way; but in stopping to give their asses provender at an inn, one spied his money in his sack, and exclaimed, "My money is restored." Had they been "true men," according to their own boasted character, surely they would have found in this a cause for joy and thankfulness; certainly full sacks and money returned were no honest cause for producing hearts and tongues like theirs. We read, "Their hearts
failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?" Here we get the other kind of fear. It is not the fear of God that Joseph had. Their fear was the fear of a bad conscience; Joseph's was in perfect harmony with a good one. They feared because they were offenders; he feared lest he should offend. Theirs was the fear of distance from, and estrangement to, God; his was the fear of nearness enjoyed, and communion too much valued to be lightly treated. Theirs was the fear of judgment; his had a quality in perfect conformity with the favor in which he stood. Those that saw that great light when Paul was smitten down on his way to Damascus were afraid when they saw it, while a holy fear filled Paul's soul as he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22). Such is the sinner's and the Christian's fear!—the fear of distance and of nearness, the fear that keeps us away from God, and the fear that brings us nigh. May God increase this pious fear in all His own who know the nearness, and want to keep it in all its sweet enjoyment.
But though their fear was so different to that of Joseph, yet would he have rejoiced to see such an effect produced. It was just what he was toiling for; and the agony of their souls at this display of the bountifulness of his love and grace, would have been an adequate reward. He had been wounding them, but they were "the wounds of a friend" that he gave them, and much better than kisses, while they were in such a state. It was the divine tact of his patient serving, and he wisely wounded that such a cure might be effected that would leave them forever thankful for the wound. The process seemed long, but it was the only one likely to be effectual. A foolish and inefficient angler will dash at his prey, and effectually drive it away, while the skillful and successful display long patience and silent tact. The Lord help us thus, whether it be with our failing brethren, to "restore such a one in the spirit of meekness"; or poor sinners, to win them wisely, for "he that winneth souls is wise."
Nature might have suggested one of two other courses to Joseph. Self-vindication would have prompted him to tell them how bad they were; and that he was their brother whom they put in a
pit and afterward sold; and now that he had got the pre-eminence above them, as he had dreamed, he would exercise it in their destruction. Or nature might have wrought in its other character, displaying nothing but honey; Joseph's heart would have discharged itself of the affection burning in it, regardless of the unfitness for its reception, and left them in a state ten times worse than it was before, and much harder to be cured. No; it is "salt" that is "good," not honey; and what it affects it also preserves. Had Joseph dealt with his brethren in the first manner stated, in anger and judgment, with no grace, instead of there being produced the "fear of God," it would have only produced "the fear of man"; and that we are told "bringeth a snare"; and "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Jas. 1:2020For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:20). While so-called love at the expense of truth, displayed where wrong is, which remains unchallenged and unconfessed, is only an amiability which reflects discredit on its possessor at every expression of it. Joseph was not going to make for peace at the expense of righteousness.
There can be no real peace which has not a basis of righteousness and truth. Melchisedec was "first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace." Heb. 7:22To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; (Hebrews 7:2). We are living in a day of marvelous grace; but it is grace reigning "through righteousness," and that because, in the cross, "mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace kissed each other." "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever." Isa. 32:1717And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. (Isaiah 32:17).
I do not wish to weary my reader with this part of Joseph's history; but it is a lesson of deepest importance in this day of looseness, and a real feast as one discovers Christ in the picture—though necessarily obscured by reason that every subject of delineation can only meagerly represent the model. Yet the moral dignity of Joseph is grand to a degree. Malice and violence would have been most weak, unmanly, and ungodlike, in their present low estate; but in those three words, "I fear God," there was real moral power.
I dare to tarry one moment more with my reader over this blessed, wondrous picture, and seek to see portrayed therein, the outlines of many a case of discipline through which a greater than Joseph, with unremitting mercy and unerring skill, leads His people, to create the fear He so appreciates where He finds it not. Yet how often do we fail to own whose hand it is that shakes the "sieve" of discipline (Amos 7:99And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. (Amos 7:9)), which will not let the least grain fall upon the earth, in order to deliver from the "fan" of judgment to "bereave" and to "destroy" ( Jer. 15:77And I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy my people, since they return not from their ways. (Jeremiah 15:7)). He never unnecessarily afflicts; and He prayed for Peter whom He disciplined. A curse is pronounced upon the man "whose heart departeth from the LORD," and surely this is ever where the fear of God is lacking. "He shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness." Jer. 17:5, 65Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. 6For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. (Jeremiah 17:5‑6).
How the lack of this holy fear of God deprives of all present gain; and human reason—the carnal mind allowed to work—is the first step to its displacement. The fool says, "There is no God," but the greater fool is he who practically disowns the truth he verbally assents to. It is nothing less than infidel in principle to talk of God, yet live as though He were not. The effect of this lack is the allowance of practices, plans, and inventions which are on a level with the world, if not below it; and every transaction must necessarily be compatible with its tenets and, of course, the fear of God is hardly to be expected there.
The "fear of God" is the Christian's highroad to truest gain and the fulfillment of the Spirit's taught most sanguine hope; and all we need to meet the difficulties we find along it is faith in exercise that, perchance, more in woe than weal, owns there is a God. Let this go, and the road that I have named "the fear of God" is at once most surely departed from for another we may name "the fear of men or circumstances," where unbelief toils, and schemes, and plans, and yields a copious treasure of sorrow, disappointment, and endless remorse.
Mary's prophetic language was (may it ring in our hearts), "His mercy is on them that fear Him. from generation to generation." Luke 1:5050And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50). And His ears are seen hearkening to those to which Malachi refers who "feared the LORD, and spake often one to
another; and the LORD harkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name." Mal. 3:1616Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:16).
In Luke 12 we are told to "fear Him," and to "fear not" (vv. 5, 7). We are of more value than many sparrows; why should we be fearful of circumstances which the same hand overrules that provides for them, five of which are sold for two farthings (one is too worthless to find a measure for its value) and "not one of them is forgotten before God"? The Lord forewarns whom men are to fear—"fear Him,... yea, I say unto you, Fear Him."
This fear seems to be one of the first manifested instincts of the divine nature; and it is beautiful to see it displayed in such a vessel as the thief upon the cross, to whom before, doubtless, it had been a characteristic most foreign. This malefactor rebuked his comrade, saying, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?" It is evident that he did, and in the next breath owned Jesus "Lord"—"Lord, remember me."
But to return to Joseph's brethren. Marvelous indeed their language in verse 28, had we not the secret of it. Their sacks were filled, their money returned, yet they exclaimed when one was opened, "What is this that God hath done unto us?" It is the language of fear, calamity, and woe, out of place even in the day of adversity, yet found in the midst of unexpected plenty. Ah! it was their wretched, guilty consciences that made them miserable in the presence of that which might have made them glad. The ointment was good enough—yea, very good!—but the dead flies made it stink (Eccles. 10:11Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor. (Ecclesiastes 10:1)).
They passed on to Jacob their father, and told their story; and when the sacks were opened in his presence, and "they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid." Jacob manifested the same character here that was so common with him, and was full of fear, unbelief, and forebodings of calamity; and as he had once found satisfaction in his own invention of an evil beast devouring Joseph, to account for the blood upon the coat, so now already to his unbelief, "Simeon is not," and mischief may befall Benjamin by the way. "All these things are against me" now; and if his "ifs"—the "ifs" of unbelief
-are, shall I say? gratified -for unbelief often carries with it a wretched self-made martyr or morbid spirit which only feeds upon itself like the moth which soon, though outwardly all fair and perhaps beautiful, becomes a corpse—his gray hairs would be brought down with sorrow to the grave. Poor Jacob! when these things came to him, did he pray? No. Did he rejoice in the midst of his tribulation? No. Did he worship? No. Was his language up to God at all? Did he say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him"? No. Did he make the valley of Baca a well? No. "All these things are against me," is his woeful cry; he beheld not the hand of God in any of it; and it was true of him, as of his posterity, of whom it is recorded, "They have not known My ways." Heb. 3:1010Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. (Hebrews 3:10). God was working in all these things for that end which presently made Jacob weep for very joy; and then if he looked back, what a waste must have met his view! The remorse of lost opportunities for glorifying God as each trial or sorrow arose, because he met it with repining instead of in faith, with all its excellent fruits, and all that he had done had only tended to hinder, certainly not to accelerate, the fulfillment of God's purpose.