Thirteen years ago I spent one summer teaching high school courses in a medium security prison. While I had many interesting experiences, one of my colleagues had one encounter with a prisoner which is pertinent to our passage. This teacher was showing a movie to his class, but one student attempted to take advantage of the darkness and catch a nap. On several occasions my friend came upon him sleeping and gave him a little shake. It was useless, for by this time he was deep in sleep and no mere nudge would awaken him. Finally he was shaken somewhat more vigorously. He awakened with a start, shook his fist in the teacher’s face and blurted out, “If you ever do that again, you’re going to get it!”
Now there was always a guard stationed in the hall, and this was certainly the time for his services. My teacher friend gradually worked his way to the door where he signaled the guard, and the hostile student was removed from class and taken to the “hole” where he spent a week in solitary confinement. He, of course, had a great deal of time to consider his threat. When he returned to his class after that week of solitude, he went up to my friend to apologize. “Sir,” he said, “I want you to know that I didn’t really mean what I said to you last week. What I meant to say was, ‘If you ever do that again, you might get it!’”
I hope we all realize that this falls somewhat short of real repentance. As I read the account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers, I am disturbed by the fact that it took perhaps a year or more before he revealed his identity to them.72 Why did it have to take so long? I believe it was because there was no evidence of genuine repentance until the events of chapter 44. While Joseph’s brothers had come to the point of recognizing the hand of God in their trials during their first journey to Egypt (cf. 42:21-22,28), their response was more one of regret than repentance. It was the genuine repentance of Judah and his brothers in chapter 44 which caused Joseph to disclose his identity and thus turn their sorrow to rejoicing.
The reason this chapter is so vital to us centuries later is that repentance is an indispensable part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet it is seldom discussed and frequently misunderstood. Our Lord’s last words to His disciples speak of the necessity of repentance:
… and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations—beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
Let us approach, then, this final test of Joseph’s brothers to learn more of this matter of repentance.
The noon meal finally finished, Joseph instructed his steward to provide his brothers with as many provisions as they could carry.
Then he commanded his house steward, saying, “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, and his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph had told him (Genesis 44:1-2).
As he did on the first journey to Egypt, Joseph ordered his steward to place in their sacks the money they had given for their grain. In addition to this, the silver cup which belonged to Joseph was placed in the sack of Benjamin, thus setting the scene for the final test of his brothers.
As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, “Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this’” (Genesis 44:3-5).
Joseph’s brothers must have spent the night at his house, for they were “sent off” at first light (verse 3). No more had they gotten out of sight than Joseph ordered his steward to pursue them, charging them with theft and bringing back Benjamin, in whose sack the silver cup was sure to be found. The instructions which Joseph gave are cited as a quotation, but surely more detailed orders were given, for what happens is much more complex than what Joseph commanded his steward.
A serious difficulty arises with this silver cup that is hidden in Benjamin’s sack. The servant described it as the cup which his master used for divination (verse 5). And in verse 15 Joseph claimed to have knowledge through divination.73 The difficulty lies in the fact that later revelation strictly forbids divination:
You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying (Leviticus 19:26).
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer (Deuteronomy 18:10).
How could one as spiritual as Joseph be guilty of using a method of gaining knowledge that was an abomination to God?
Some feel that Joseph really did use the method of divination.74 Also, we are reminded that, at this point in time, divination was not clearly condemned by divine revelation.75 Other explanations have also been suggested.76 I am rather strongly inclined to believe that this is just one more element of the carefully constructed disguise of Joseph, who posed as a true Egyptian. Such a godly man as he is unlikely to have employed methods which God would later condemn. Some of the commandments of the Mosaic Law, while recorded later, were known and observed in much earlier times, such as the law of levirate marriage (cf. Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
When speaking to his steward Joseph referred to this cup differently than we would expect: “And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest …” (Genesis 44:2).
Who, more than his personal steward, would have recognized this silver cup as the divining cup of his master? That is, of course, assuming that Joseph used the cup for divination. But suppose that he never used the cup for divining. How, then, would Joseph have referred to it? Just as he did. He called it “my cup, the silver cup” (verse 2). I contend that Joseph referred to his cup in this way because it reflected the actual use of that cup in such a way as to distinguish it (for his steward’s sake) from any other cup. He wanted a particular cup placed in Benjamin’s sack, and so he distinguished it by its uniqueness; it was Joseph’s cup—his drinking cup—which was silver.
This also explains why Joseph gave very specific instructions to his steward as to how he should refer to this cup when accusing his brothers of theft: “Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination?” (Genesis 44:5).
Why did he give his trusted steward such latitude in everything but the specific wording of the accusation? I would suggest that it is precisely because the steward would never have worded his rebuke in this way. Why? Because not only the charge was false, but the impression given was also not true to the facts. If Joseph never used that silver cup for divination, how would his steward ever have conceived to refer to it in that way? He would have spoken of it just as Joseph did to him. He would have called it his master’s silver drinking cup, for no doubt it was used during the noon meal which Joseph shared with his brothers.
But why all this subterfuge? Why would Joseph want his brothers to think that the cup was used for divination when it was not? As for me, the answer is obvious. Joseph wanted to continue to reinforce his disguise as an Egyptian. He also wanted to impress upon his brothers that he knew everything. He had been able to seat his brothers at the table according to their age, an act that astonished and puzzled them (43:33). As Hebrews, they would expect Joseph to seek divine revelation through such means, and they would be drawn away from considering that he might know about them because they were his brothers. Furthermore, it would discourage them from concealing the truth from him since they were inclined to believe he knew everything.
Joseph’s faithful steward now set out to accomplish what his master commanded. Joseph’s brothers had been lulled into a false sense of confidence, one which would lead them to pronounce upon themselves their own sentence.
So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. And 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 which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” So he said, “Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent. Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city (Genesis 44:6-13).
Overtaking these Hebrew men as they headed back to their father, the steward accused them of stealing the silver “divining” cup. With smug confidence and self-righteousness the brothers assured the steward that such a thing was beyond them. After all, had they not attempted to return the money which they found in their sacks from the first journey? If they would not keep money that was accidentally placed in their sacks, much less would they consider taking as common thieves what was not theirs. Assured of their innocence, they overcompensated by pronouncing their own sentence if found guilty: let the thief, if indeed there was one, be put to death, and let all the rest become slaves. Slavery was what these men had most feared (cf. 43:18), and yet they were willing to risk it because they were certain of their innocence.
Knowing that he would discover the cup and probably knowing the intent of his master in this situation to test them in the matter of family cohesiveness and loyalty, the steward wisely and graciously modified their self-imposed sentence: no, let the one in whose sack the cup is found become Joseph’s slave and all the rest go free.
Each man hastened to take down his sack and open it, for they were certain that their innocence would be proven. While nothing is said of the gold which was placed in each man’s sack (verse 1), the discovery of this money in each of their sacks must have made their hearts sink just as it had before (42:28, 35). Their logic had been, “How could they think of stealing his silver cup if they would not take his money?” And yet for some unknown reason they did have his money. A growing sense of dread must have come over these men as each learned that his money had found its way back to his sack. The basis for their righteous indignation was gone. But the steward makes no mention of their money. All he wished to discover was the thief of the cup. From the oldest to the youngest, the steward made his way down the line until he reached Benjamin, the last. Their world came crashing in upon them all when the cup was discovered.
Here was the first phase of the final test of Joseph’s brothers. While they had initially insisted that the thief die and the others remain as slaves, the steward set the penalty as slavery only for the culprit. The others could go on their way. And yet, all of the brothers tore their clothes as a sign of grief and mourning, and all of them returned to Joseph’s house. Had they acted only in self-interest, they would have renounced Benjamin as a thief, deserted him, and fled from Egypt as quickly as possible. But something different was taking place. These were not the same men that had determined to do away with Joseph at Dothan (cf. Genesis 37:18ff.).
More than twenty years had passed since they had sold Joseph into slavery, and yet it was as though they were reliving the event in the person of Benjamin. Before, they had resented the fact that Joseph had observed their misconduct and reported it to Jacob (37:2). Further, they resented the favoritism Jacob showed to Joseph (37:4) just as Jacob was now partial to Benjamin (cf. 44:27-31). When far from the watchful eye of their father, they found an occasion to get rid of Joseph. First they decided to kill him violently (37:20), then to starve him to death in a pit (37:22), and finally to sell him into slavery for silver (37:26-28).
Now they were faced with a most similar situation. Benjamin, Jacob’s beloved, was in their care, far from Jacob’s protection. He was accused of a terrible crime for which there was no opportunity to establish his innocence. They, without any real guilt, such as they deserved before, could merely choose to walk away and enjoy their liberty at Benjamin’s expense. They could return to their father just as they had done so long ago and break his heart with the news that his other son was “no more.” More than twenty years later, the same temptation faces these men. Will they evidence a change of heart, or will they act in self-interest? That is what Joseph must know. The moment of truth has arrived.
A principle recorded later in Israel’s history surely finds application here:
So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “Would that it were evening!” And at evening you shall say, “Would that it were morning!” because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see. And the LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, “You will never see it again!” And there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer (Deuteronomy 28:66-68).
God told His people that when they obeyed Him, He would pour out His blessings upon them (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but disobedience would bring discipline (28:15ff.) Like Joseph’s brothers, those who choose to disobey the will of God bring upon themselves the appearance of being in constant danger of extinction and annihilation. How true this appeared to be at this time in the life of Joseph’s brothers. Their life seemed to hang by a thread, but oh how strong the thread!
The self-confidence of only a few verses previous (verses 7-9) has been completely eroded away by the discovery of the cup. There is now no attempt at making a defense or giving any explanation. Instead, there is an admission of guilt, not just on Benjamin’s part but on the part of all.
When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. And Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?” So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:14-17).
On their first visit the brothers had only been impressed with the severity of this Egyptian potentate (cf. 42:7; 43:3-5,18). Here was a man to be feared. But on this second mission they had also gained an appreciation for the generosity and kind intent of the governor. The sumptuous noon meal and the generous provisions and accommodations were not intended to disarm these men, but to assure them of the kindness of Joseph. In effect, they had seen both the “goodness and severity” (cf. Romans 11:22) of Joseph. I believe part of the reason they returned en masse to Joseph was that they had gained an appreciation for his integrity. He was one to whom they could appeal. He was a man of integrity and justice. This, to me, is the best explanation of the events of the last chapter, especially Joseph’s generosity and his hospitality at the noon meal.
Joseph is still at home as the heartbroken party returns. They fall prostrate before him, no longer seeking justice as before (verses 7-9), but mercy. Joseph rebuked them for their wicked deed, again reminding them of his ability to learn (by “divination”) the true facts of the matter. They could not deceive him; he knew all. That is the thrust of his words.
Judah seeks to convey their brokenness. They are without any defense. He does not acknowledge guilt in the matter of the cup, nor does he seek to give an explanation. He does confess that they now see the origin of this disaster. It is God against whom they have sinned (verse 16). It is not for the theft of Joseph’s cup that they are now in trouble, but for their sins of the past. While not stated (how, after all, would this Egyptian know anything of their previous sins?), Judah’s acknowledgment of sin must refer primarily to the sale of Joseph into slavery. As all were guilty of that sin (except Benjamin, interestingly), so they are all guilty before the governor of Egypt, and thus all are his slaves. They will suffer together since they shared in a common act of sin.
But Joseph would not hear of this. Why should all suffer for the sin of one? As a mere Egyptian he could not know of their past sins. He was only intent upon making matters right in regard to the theft of his silver cup. No, all would be sent home to their father except Benjamin, and he would remain as Joseph’s slave (verse 17).
Judah once again assumes the role of spiritual leader among his brothers. It was he, after all, who had offered himself as surety for Benjamin’s safe return. Now that seems a rather remote possibility. Nevertheless, there is something about Joseph which inspires an appeal for mercy. Had he not inquired with great interest about Benjamin and Jacob? And did he not take great interest in the fact of their father’s health and well-being (43:27)? Contrary to Jacob’s preferences and advice (43:6), Judah was determined to tell Joseph the truth with no excuses and to appeal to his graciousness as evidenced at the meal they had shared (43:31-34).
Then Judah approached him, and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ And your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. And if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will come about when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?” (Genesis 44:18-34).
With a humble petition for forbearance, Judah beseeches his brother to give him the opportunity to tell the whole story from beginning to end (verse 18). It was Joseph who had inquired about their father and younger brother (verse 19), and they had responded with the truth. They had also mentioned that Benjamin had a brother who was deceased and that their father was deeply attached to Benjamin because he was the only remaining child of his mother (verse 20). It was Joseph who had insisted upon seeing this brother, although they had attempted to explain how their father would not want him out of his sight (verses 21-22). In spite of their efforts to dissuade him from it, Joseph had demanded to see this brother as proof of their honesty (verse 23). When they returned home, they reported all this to their father Jacob (verse 24). He later asked his sons to return for more grain, but they refused to go without Benjamin, for they took the Egyptian governor’s words seriously (verses 25-26).
Judah now attempts to paint an accurate picture of the pitiful condition of their father by reporting his words as spoken to his sons (verses 27-29). His beloved wife, he had said, had borne him only two sons. When the oldest went out from him and did not return, he was forced to conclude that this son had died, a victim of wild beasts. To take Benjamin, the only other son of Rachel, and not return with him would break his heart. Not only would he enter his grave in sorrow, but he also implied that his death would even be hastened by his grief.
Judah’s predicament is now described (verses 30-32). If Joseph can somehow understand the dilemma in which Judah finds himself, perhaps he will be sympathetic to his petition which concludes his appeal (verses 33-34). The life of this aged man of whom Joseph has inquired is inseparably intertwined with his youngest son, Benjamin (verse 30). To return to Canaan without this son would bring to pass that which Jacob himself had suggested, his untimely and uncomforted death (verse 31). And Judah is most directly related to this situation, for it is he who had assured his father of Benjamin’s safe return, offering himself as surety (verse 32).
The facts have all been laid out. The situation is now seen in the light of what Benjamin’s captivity would do to this patriarch about whom Joseph seemed to show concern. If only Joseph would consent to a substitution, much of this suffering could be averted. Let him remain as Joseph’s prisoner, Judah pled (verse 33), for he could not bear to face his father without Benjamin. He would prefer to remain a slave in Egypt than to be free in Canaan and witness the pain and suffering he had helped to impose upon his father (verse 34).
Everyone knows what happens next. Joseph will identify himself as their brother, and the entire situation is suddenly reversed. But that is the subject of the next chapter. The question which we must concern ourselves with is this: Why did Joseph suddenly reveal his identity now? What caused him to suddenly throw off his disguise?
A casual consideration of this passage might lead us to conclude that Judah had been successful in tugging at Joseph’s heart strings. Joseph disclosed himself because he could stand it no longer. This explanation is not sufficient, and it does not fit the facts. On previous occasions Joseph had also been emotionally touched (42:24; 43:30), but he had always been able to restrain these emotions. It was not that now his emotions finally controlled Joseph, but that Joseph’s purposes had been realized. Judah’s appeal did not change Joseph’s heart so much as it revealed that Judah’s heart had undergone a significant change since the day many years before when he had been instrumental in selling Joseph into slavery. In short, Joseph was now able to reveal his identity because genuine repentance had been evidenced.
Up until this moment there was insufficient evidence of repentance. Previous chapters have indicated that Joseph’s brothers recognized their suffering as the result of their sin, but at best they felt only regret. They wished, I believe, that they had not sold Joseph into slavery. Perhaps they were sorry that their father had to suffer as he did. And they regretted that they had to endure the consequences of their sins. This was a good beginning, but it was not enough. Regret is no more than what we would expect from anyone who is faced with the unpleasant consequences of sin. Every prisoner regrets their crime, or at least the fact that they were caught. But repentance is more than regret.
The regrets of Judah and his brothers had not brought them to the point of confessing their sin to Jacob nor of making any attempt to learn of Joseph’s fate. But now, given the opportunity to repeat their sin, there is a significant change of heart and action on the part of Joseph’s brothers, as exemplified by Judah. They had once determined to do away with Joseph, regardless of its impact upon Jacob, in order to seek revenge and to avoid becoming Joseph’s subordinates. Now, just the opposite was true. Judah was willing to become the slave of Joseph, even though he was declared innocent of the theft of the silver cup. He could not stand the thought of causing any further suffering. That, my friend, is genuine repentance.
That brings us to the point of defining repentance. Repentance is the recognition of our sins which results in the kind of sorrow that brings about a change in our intellect, emotions, and will. In other words, repentance recognizes sin and is genuinely sorry for it, so much so that this sin will be shunned and a new course of action will be sought.77
The principle which underlies the protracted dealings of Joseph in the lives of his brothers is this: there can be no reconciliation without genuine repentance. That is what caused Joseph to delay so long in revealing his identity to his brothers. If there were to be true unity in his family, there must first be true reconciliation. And that reconciliation would not come before his brothers experienced and evidenced biblical repentance.
Let me mention some illustrations of repentance in the New Testament. The prodigal son sinned by demanding his inheritance and squandering it on loose living. He eventually came to suffer the consequences of his sin, feeding swine in a far country and having no food but that which he fed the hogs. His regrets eventually turned to repentance. He realized the foolishness of his sins and yearned for fellowship with his father, even as a hired servant. He came to his senses and returned home to his father, not seeking justice, but mercy, and his father warmly received him (Luke 15:10ff.). That was biblical repentance. Genuine sorrow for sin brought about a change in this son’s thinking and actions. He forsook his sins (cf. Luke 15:18) and returned to his father, who gladly received him back.
The rich young ruler, on the contrary, came to Jesus in order to gain salvation without changing his values, priorities, or lifestyle. He went away sorry, but not repentant or saved, for he could not part with his old way of life (Matthew 19:16-22). Zaccheus, on the other hand, evidenced genuine repentance and conversion when he sought to make right the sins of his past (Luke 19:1-10).
I dare say that you and I would not have gone to such lengths to restore our fallen brothers as did Joseph. And the reason, I fear, is that we have too little appreciation for the biblical doctrine of repentance. We do not think it necessary, nor do we seek to produce it in the lives of others.
In the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2, etc.), our Lord (Matthew 4:17, etc.), and the apostles (Mark 6:12; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20), repentance was an inseparable part of the message of the gospel. Why, then, is it not so important to us? Why do we not make it a part of the gospel we proclaim? Perhaps it is due to a misconception of the grace of God.
I can well remember hearing the teaching which emphasized the word “confess” rather than repentance. We are correctly told that “confess” does not mean “to be sorry,” but “to agree with,” “to say the same thing.”78 While this is undeniable, it is wrong to conclude that because “confess” does not mean “to be sorry,” being sorry is unnecessary. Confession is the evidence of genuine repentance.79 Thus, the “sorry” element is found in the word “repentance,” not in the word “confess.”
I once heard it said that in former years a Roman Catholic would come to the priest for confession saying something to the effect, “Father, I have … and … and I want to confess this to you.” Nowadays it is entirely a different story, which goes more like this: “Dig me daddy, I goofed again.” I fear that we who are Protestants are guilty of much the same mentality toward our sins. To admit guilt, we suppose, is to obtain forgiveness. I do not believe that the Bible anywhere teaches this. Reconciliation is based upon genuine repentance, not just on some kind of glib recital of wrongs committed.
I do not think that this is true only in the realm of spiritual relationships, but in every area of our relationships. I believe that God does heal marriages. I have seen what appeared to be a hopeless marriage marvelously transformed. But genuine reconciliation here requires repentance too. What an offended mate fears most is the kind of situation where their partner admits wrongdoing, pleads for forgiveness, and promises radical changes, but where nothing really changes. In short order, old patterns are resumed, and old problems relived. Repentance does not guarantee that old problems will not recur, but it does assure us that sins are recognized as such and shunned. Repentance does not desire to make sin a habit, and it looks to God for enablement to live in a godly way. In Romans 7 we see the agony of a man who is not living as he should, or even as he desires, but he does not love his sin; he hates it. His agony originates in his hatred of sin and his desire to do right. There is a repentant spirit here which must exist.
As Paul would have us know from the book of Romans, repentance is a great start, but it is not enough. Our recognition of sin and a corresponding desire to reverse our actions is a prerequisite to righteous living, but there is more that is needed. In addition to desiring a new course of action, we must find a new source of ability. The wonderful news of the grace of God is that He has not only made provision for our salvation, but He also has made provision for our sanctification:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 7:24-8:4).
Joseph’s dealings with his brothers have a great deal of application to men today. For those who have never come to faith in Christ, there is an illustration of salvation. God, like Joseph, desires to pour out upon men, whom He loves, the riches which are His to give. But men cannot be blessed until their sins have been dealt with. To Joseph’s brothers, this Egyptian potentate was all-wise and all-powerful, but harsh and to be feared. Yet to us, he was a loving brother whose tears revealed his heart and his earnest desires. In order to bring his brothers to repentance, Joseph had to put them to the test and make their lives appear to be in peril. But when they recognized themselves as sinners deserving any sentence Joseph had to pronounce upon them, repentance was realized, and Joseph was free to reveal himself to be a loving brother, not a vengeful master.
If you have never come to recognize your sin, desire to forsake it, and to confess it before God, then you, like Joseph’s brothers, will look upon God with only dread and fear. The thought of standing before God will be more fearful to you than Joseph’s brothers’ contemplation of returning to stand for sentencing before him. But once you realize your sins and the rightful penalty that should be yours—once you come to God, not to barter and bargain for blessings, but to cast yourself upon His mercy—then you will come to see the other side of God. He is a loving Father, who desires to pour out His blessings upon you. He wants to save you and to enable you to live a life that pleases Him and you.
Regretting your sins and their consequences in your life is not enough. That sorrow for sin must turn to a hatred of sin, a desire to turn from it, and a dependence upon God for forgiveness from sin and freedom from its power. Jesus Christ has come to earth, fully God and fully man. He has taken upon Himself the penalty for your sins. He offers you the kind of righteousness which God requires for salvation and eternal life. If you will acknowledge your sins, turn from them, and trust in the Savior God has provided, then you will be born again. You can be restored to fellowship with God just as Joseph’s brothers could once again have intimacy with their kinsman. But let me assure you, God will not make life easy for you nor pour out His blessings upon you until you have learned the need for and experienced repentance.
For Christians, we must be reminded that repentance is a vital element of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a popular doctrine, as you know. It is a dimension of the gospel that is often omitted, thinking that it will be easier to save souls if we leave it out. But salvation will not and cannot occur without it.
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
… solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
… but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20).
As we actively pursue the “ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18-21), let us not forget that reconciliation cannot occur without repentance.
Once we are saved, the need for repentance is not over. The way salvation is conceived is also the way it is continued:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).
I believe this to be a part of what Paul meant in the book of Romans when he said,
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
The process which begins at conversion is an ongoing one. As we daily present ourselves to God, we ought to be learning more of His mind and thus become aware of new truths, as well as being convicted of transgressions of which we were previously unaware. John called this “walking in the light as He is in the light” (I John 1:7). We should continually be experiencing the renewal of our mind, which should result in renouncing the ways of darkness and walking in the light which we have been given. Repentance, in this sense, will go on throughout our lives until we have, in His presence, been transformed into full conformity with Him.
Unfortunately, there will come times of willful disobedience. Our feet will slip, and we shall sin in ways of which we know better. In times such as these, repentance must also be found in order for full fellowship and intimacy with God to be appreciated and experienced:
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent (Revelation 2:4-5).
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me’” (Revelation 3:14-20).
For Christian and non-Christian alike, repentance is a step beyond recognition of sin and regret of its consequences; it is the decision to turn from sin to Him who is sinless and whose way is that of righteousness. It is turning from our sins and our self-effort and relying upon our Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and enablement. How beautifully the Apostle Paul describes this step beyond regret in his epistle to the Corinthians. Let us use it as our guide:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you, what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God (II Corinthians 7:8-12).
72 It would appear that the first journey to Egypt for grain occurred in the first year of the famine (cf. 42:1ff.). It would take some time for Joseph’s brothers to travel from Canaan to Egypt and return, plus the fact that Jacob resisted any thought of a second trip to Egypt until all the grain was gone and his sons pressured him to face reality and release Benjamin (cf. 43:2,10). When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers at the end of their second journey to Egypt, he said that five years of famine remained (45:11), indicating that two of the seven years of famine had elapsed. An estimate of one year, therefore, cannot miss the mark by much.
73 “As far as such practice is concerned, it is said to have been used in several forms. Some poured clear water into a bowl or a cup and then strewed into the water small pieces or particles of gold and of silver or even of precious stones. Some poured oil into the water. Still others observed the manner in which light rays broke on the surface. Usually the resulting designs to be observed in the water, whether from the particles thrown into it or from the oil, were construed after certain rules in order to draw conclusions as to the future.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1081.
74 “It would seem clear from the narrative that Joseph was in the habit of using the art of divination.” W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 418.
75 “Unless this was part of his pose, Joseph here took his colouring from Egypt, in a matter on which no law was as yet in being.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 205.
76 “There still remains the possibility, as Vilmar points out, that it may actually have pleased God to use some such means in order to convey higher revelation to Joseph.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, II, p. 1081.
“But as Vergote points out, the phrase whereby he certainly divineth could be translated ‘about this he would certainly have divined.’ It is a small difference, but it would give added point to verse 15, where the implication would be: ‘Did you think you could be undetected?’ It also meets the objection, such as it is, that divining by means of a cup is not otherwise clearly attested for the Egypt of this period.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 205.
77 “Repentance, penitence, and conversion are closely linked. Whenever someone gives his thought and life a new direction, it always involves a judgment on his previous views and behaviour. This process is expressed in the NT by three word groups which deal with its various aspects: epistrepho, metamelomai, and metanoeo. The first and third both mean turn round, turn oneself round, and refer to a man’s conversion. This presupposes and includes a complete change under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Metamelomai expresses rather the feeling of repentance for error, debt, failure and sin, and so it looks back. Hence, it does not necessarily cause a man to turn to God. Epistrepho is probably the widest conception, because it always includes faith. We often find pisteuo, believe, expressly used with metanoeo, since faith complements repentance. . . .” Colin Brown, ed., “Conversion, Penitence, Repentance, Proselyte,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), I, pp. 353-354.
Berkhoff distinguished three elements of repentance:
“a. An intellectual element. There is a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness. It is designated in Scripture as epignosis hamartias (knowledge of sin), Rom. 3:20, cf. 1:32 . . .
“b. An emotional element. There is a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy and just God, Ps. 51:2,10,14. . . .
“c. A volitional element. There is also a volitional element, consisting in a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing, Ps. 51:5,7,10; Jer. 25:5.” L. Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1941), p. 486.
78 “Homologeo (Soph. onwards) and homologia (Hat. onwards) are compounds of homos, the same, similar, and lego, say, or logos, word, speech. Hence, homologeo means to say the same, i.e., agree in one’s statements, and homologia means agreement, consent.” D. Furst, “Confess,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. I, p. 344.