Please turn to Genesis 42:1-38. In Genesis 41, we read how God rules the world in His evangelical providence for His people. We also observed that Joseph was a man who was visited by many private pains although he had been exalted to great power and influence. Specifically, we learned that Joseph carried heavy personal burdens, not the least of which was the burden of his separation from his homeland and the division that occurred in his own family. However, in this chapter, Moses begins to reveal how God will bring about reconciliation in this family. This passage can easily be divided into three sections. First, in verses 1-5, we see that God has specific purposes for Jacob's family. Then, in verses 6-28, we observe that God's wrath against Joseph’s brothers is revealed to them in His providence which has the blessed result of pressing them towards repentance. Finally, in verses 29-38, we see God's disciplining providence at work in the words of their father, Jacob.   

I. God desires to advance the good of His people. 

In Genesis 42:1-5, we see that God has specific plans for Jacob's family, and that He is willing to use dark providences to bring about His purpose. As we begin this chapter, Jacob’s sons make their journey into Egypt for grain at the direction of their father. As such, we begin to see what God is willing to do to advance the good of His people, though He is not showing them His specific plans yet. Jacob and his sons are despondent. As far as they know, they are simply facing a tremendously severe famine, which is costing them livestock and income, and perhaps, is leading some of the people of their land to starvation and death. In that circumstance, Joseph’s brothers are pressed by the providence of God down into Egypt. Although they do not know it yet, God is bringing the brothers of Joseph back into contact with him, and He is beginning the process of reconciliation in this family. While it is a process of personal reconciliation, it is also a plan for the redemption of the whole people of God. As we read these verses, it is important to reflect on the truth of how amazing it is that God manages to do many things with one action at the same time in the wisdom of His sovereign providence.  

II. God's wrath is revealed and Joseph’s brothers are driven toward repentance. 

In Genesis 42:6-28, we observe that God's wrath presses the brothers toward repentance. 

First, in verses 7-8, Moses tells us that Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. It is hard to know what Joseph's state of mind was when he first saw his brothers. All we know is that the last time Joseph spoke in chapter 41, he was thanking God that He had removed the memory of his own household. Now Joseph is face to face with them again. We are told that Joseph initially spoke roughly to them and treated them like strangers. Then, in verse 9, we read that Joseph remembers the dreams about his brothers bowing down before him. At this point, Joseph is very conscious that it is God's providence that is being worked out here. In remembering the dreams, Joseph now develops a plan which will bring his whole family before him in Egypt. Because he is expecting the fullness of God's revelation and His plan to come to fruition, Joseph initiates a test for them. Specifically, in verses 15-16, Joseph says, “By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” Thus, the truthfulness of their words is pressed. In relation, this test is also connected to the process of repentance that God is bringing about in their lives.  

Later, in verse 17, we learn that Joseph had his brothers placed in prison for three days. It is in this action that Joseph is trying to discern if their hearts have really changed. He is not interested in re-engaging in this relationship if it is going to be the same as before. And that very desire is used in God's plan to bring to bear something upon their hearts to lead to repentance. As a result, in verses 21-22, they acknowledge for the first time what they did to Joseph by selling him into slavery. They admit that they caused distress to his soul, and they now believe that this distress is being visited upon them. In other words, these men clearly recognized God's wrath against their sin and that recognition leads to the process of repentance. Meanwhile, Joseph is weeping because he has heard everything that they have said, and he has to turn away from them to regain his composure. After so many years, we also begin to see that God is bringing about a wondrous reconciliation in this family.

III. God's disciplining providence is revealed in the words of Jacob. 

In Genesis 42:29-38, we read about the discussion between Jacob and his sons upon their return from Egypt without Simeon. Immediately, we begin to see the difference in these men; however, we also see God's disciplining providence at work in the words of their father. The last time we read about these ten brothers reporting to their father what happened in a far land, they reported a total lie regarding Joseph’s death. Now, as painful as it was going to for them to tell the truth, they tell their father exactly what happened. Predictably, Jacob is not happy. In fact, Jacob uses harsh words towards them. Although he had no more facts about what really happened to his son years before, we see now that he had formed an opinion in his mind regarding the truth about Joseph’s death. In response to the harsh words, Reuben tells his father that he may put his own sons to death should Benjamin be harmed. In their responses, the brothers are beginning to act like responsible men determined to fulfill their word. Thus, we see God work a reconciling miracle and a repenting change in the hearts of Jacob’s sons in this passage. As we reflect upon Joseph’s story, every one of us must believe that God’s providence indeed rules and overrules and is ultimately intended for our good. Our responsibility is to look at that providence, to trust in God, to ask Him what He is teaching us, and to continue in faithfulness. As we contemplate God’s providence, may He speak to us of our own circumstances and reveal the goodness and the kindness of His plan to us.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.