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5. How God Leads People to Repentance (Genesis 42)

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When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?” He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us so that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “What if some accident happens to him?” So Israel’s sons came to buy grain among the other travelers, for the famine was severe in the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country. Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered, “From the land of Canaan, to buy grain for food.” Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see if our land is vulnerable!” But they exclaimed, “No, my lord! Your servants have come to buy grain for food! We are all the sons of one man; we are honest men! Your servants are not spies.” “No,” he insisted, “but you have come to see if our land is vulnerable.” They replied, “Your servants are from a family of twelve brothers. We are the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is with our father at this time, and one is no longer alive.” But Joseph told them, “It is just as I said to you: You are spies! You will be tested in this way: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not depart from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. One of you must go and get your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison. In this way your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If not, then, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” He imprisoned them all for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do as I say and you will live, for I fear God. If you are honest men, leave one of your brothers confined here in prison while the rest of you go and take grain back for your hungry families. But you must bring your youngest brother to me. Then your words will be verified and you will not die.” They did as he said. They said to one other, “Surely we’re being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress has come on us!” Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy,’ but you wouldn’t listen? So now we must pay for shedding his blood!” (Now they did not know that Joseph could understand them, for he was speaking through an interpreter.) He turned away from them and wept. When he turned around and spoke to them again, he had Simeon taken from them and tied up before their eyes…

Genesis 42 (NET)

How does God lead people to repentance?

In Genesis 41, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams—there would be seven years of abundance in the land, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised the king to select a wise and discerning person to rule over the land. He should collect twenty percent of the harvest during the years of plenty to provide during the years of famine. In response, Pharaoh selected Joseph to oversee Egypt during this critical time. Joseph went from the prison to the palace within twenty-four hours.

Genesis 42 begins more than seven years later. According to Genesis 45:6, these events took place sometime during the first two years of famine. Therefore, Joseph would have been around thirty-nine years old. Apparently, this famine did not affect only Egypt and the surrounding regions, it affected the whole world. Genesis 41:57 says, “People from every country came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe throughout the earth.” Like the world-wide flood, maybe this was a global judgment, and God called for Joseph to not only save his family and the Egyptians, but nations throughout the world.

As mentioned, since the famine was so severe, it affected Joseph’s family who was living in Canaan. No doubt, caravans were passing Jacob’s house heading to Egypt for supplies, so he decided to send ten of his sons for supplies. When they arrived, Joseph recognized them and began to test them by accusing them of being spies and imprisoning them.

Interpretation Question: Why did Joseph test his brothers by calling them spies and imprisoning them?

Some think Joseph was being unfair in his ruthless treatment of them, and that he should have just revealed his identity. However, Joseph knew his brothers. Previously, they were a group of scoundrels. They murdered a village of men because of one man’s sin in raping their sister (Gen 34). Reuben slept with his father’s concubine in a power grab (Gen 35)—trying to become the leader of the family. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute (Gen 38). And, of course, they all had a part in Joseph being enslaved in Egypt.

It appears Joseph had already forgiven them—as implied by his naming of his oldest son Manasseh. The name means “forgotten”—Joseph had forgotten the troubles in his father’s house (Gen 41:51). However, one-sided forgiveness doesn’t reconcile a relationship when there is no repentance from the other side for the evil done. There were many questions Joseph needed answered: Was his brother, Benjamin, still alive? Did they kill or enslave him because he now was the favored child? Was his father alive? Had they harmed him out of anger or jealousy? Reuben had already sought the inheritance by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine. Ultimately, Joseph needed to know if they had changed or if they were still the same untrustworthy people.

In his role as governor of Egypt, Joseph’s responsibilities would include overseeing legal disputes and handing down judgments (Gen 41). Romans 13:1-7 says government authorities are God’s ministers to reward the righteous and punish the wrongdoers. It seems that God was using Joseph as an agent of justice in Genesis 42. Joseph tested the character of his ten brothers by trying to compel them to true repentance for the evil they committed. God would ultimately use these tests to help prepare them to be heads of the tribes of Israel, who were called to be a blessing to the world. Through Joseph and other circumstances, God was drawing these men to repentance to prepare them for greater works.

As we look at how God works on the hearts of Joseph’s brothers, we can discern similar paths God leads us along to bring us to repentance. As we repent, he draws us away from various sins and into right relationships with himself and others.

Big Question: In what ways does God draw people to repentance, as discerned from how God worked on the hearts of Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 42?

To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Experience Lack

While the famine was over all the earth, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt. People from every country came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe throughout the earth. When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?” He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us so that we may live and not die.”

Genesis 41:56-42:2

As mentioned, this famine was over the entire world—not just Egypt. In God’s sovereignty, the famine was probably being used as a form of discipline to turn people throughout the world to God. God at times uses weather, and its effects on the land, as a form of discipline. In Amos 4:6-8, God says:

“But surely I gave you no food to eat in any of your cities; you lacked food everywhere you live. Still you did not come back to me.” The LORD is speaking! “I withheld rain from you three months before the harvest. I gave rain to one city, but not to another. One field would get rain, but the field that received no rain dried up. People from two or three cities staggered into one city to get water, but remained thirsty. Still you did not come back to me.” The LORD is speaking!

Certainly, God was using the famine this way in the lives of Joseph’s brothers, who were unrepentant. With that said, it’s good to recognize that some natural disasters may be demonic in origin—though God is still in control of them. For example, in Job 1, Job experienced a “great wind” that destroyed his house and “fire” from heaven—possibly a meteor—that burned up his flocks and servants. These natural disasters came from Satan. God gave Satan permission to do such evils in order to test Job’s heart and help him grow in his faith.

Either way, God permits seasons of lack to turn people to himself. In seasons of ease, people are tempted to forget God, become comfortable without him, and/or comfortable with their sins. Therefore, God allows lack to show us that we need him and to turn us back to him. This is exactly what the father, who represents God, did with the prodigal son. He allowed the prodigal son to leave his household—spend all his money—and then experience a severe famine (Lk 15:14). While the son was taking care of pigs and starving, Christ said this about him:

But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”‘

Luke 15:17-19

It was when he was starving that he “came to his senses” and decided to return to the father’s house. Certainly, God often allows that in our lives when we are in sin. He allows us to experience lack—possibly financial lack, emotional lack, lack of health, etc., until we turn back to God. David said this about his experience of being unrepentant:

When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah) Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.” And then you forgave my sins.

Psalm 32:3-5

While refusing to repent, his body wasted away, and he groaned all day long. He experienced physical and emotional lack until he repented; then, God forgave him. Similarly, God allows us to experience forms of lack in order to lead us to repentance.

Application Question: Why are we so prone to fall away from God when things are good? How has God used trials and specifically the experience of lack to lead you or others away from sin and back to God?

To Bring Repentance, God Often Awakens People’s Consciences through Reminders of Unconfessed Sin

When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?” He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us so that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “What if some accident happens to him?” So Israel’s sons came to buy grain among the other travelers, for the famine was severe in the land of Canaan… Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me.”

Genesis 42:1-5, 36

As mentioned, it was clear that Egypt had resources during this severe, world-wide famine. As shepherds, this famine would have threatened not only Jacob’s family’s food source but also their business. Eventually all their flocks would die if not provided with grain. Therefore, Jacob looked at his sons and said, “Why are you looking at each other? … Go down to Egypt and buy grain?” (Gen 42:1-2 paraphrase). Apparently, when it became clear Egypt had grain, the brothers started looking at each other but not saying anything. This confused Jacob, so he said, “Why are you looking at each other?”

Most likely, the thought of going to Egypt was unattractive to the brothers, even if it meant saving their lives. This probably was because the thought of Egypt triggered memories of how they sold Joseph into slavery, after which he was sent to Egypt. Perhaps they would see him there. If so, what would they say or do? The word, “Egypt,” probably pricked their conscience—resurrecting memories of their sin, so they said nothing when it was brought up and just looked around at one another. God was jogging their memory—reminding them of their sin.

Observation Question: What are some other ways that God reminded the brothers of their sin against Joseph in this narrative?

God apparently reminded them in various ways: (1) When Jacob sent the brothers, he held back his son, Benjamin, who was Rachel’s second son after Joseph. Jacob said, “What if some accident happens to him?” (v. 4). This also would have reminded the brothers of their sin, as Jacob held tightly to Benjamin after losing his other favorite son, Joseph. (2) In fact, after the ten brothers returned from Egypt, they asked Jacob if they could return with Benjamin in order to get more food and get Simeon out of prison. However, Jacob responded, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Gen 42:36). It seems that Jacob was blaming the brothers for his loss of Joseph, Simeon, and the prospect of losing Benjamin. Possibly Jacob always suspected that his sons had something to do with Joseph’s death, and the brothers could sense it.

Similarly, one of the ways that God draws us to repentance is by reminding us of unconfessed sin. Christ taught this was one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs (cf. John 16:8). The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, so we can repent and turn back to God; he does this through many means, including various reminders.

Difference Between Conviction and Condemnation

With that said, we must discern the difference between conviction and condemnation. Romans 8:1 says there is now “no condemnation” to those who are in Christ. Christ bore the judgment for our sins on the cross and gave us his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, we are always welcomed into God’s presence—in fact, we should come into his presence boldly (Heb 4:14-16). However, Satan often condemns us. He says that we are not worthy to come into the presence of God—not worthy to read the Bible or go to church. He condemns us for our failures in order to push us away from God and obedience to him. But the Holy Spirit convicts us so we can repent—turning away from our sin and returning to God and others.

Here, in this narrative, we see the Holy Spirit working on the brothers’ hardened hearts. Certainly, they didn’t want to think about Joseph or anything associated with him. They wanted to suppress the truth instead of letting the truth set them free (cf. John 8:32). Scripture describes how we tend to suppress the truth because of our sin (Rom 1:18). Therefore, the Holy Spirit gently, and at times loudly, uses various circumstances to remind people of the truth—that they sinned against God and others and need to repent. God loves us and died for us, so we would no longer be slaves of sin but of righteousness (cf. Rom 6:17-18). Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Application Question: How can we discern the difference between condemnation and conviction? Why is it important to do so? In what ways have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s pricking of the conscience when in unrepentant sin or to help you discern something was a sin? How have you experienced Satan’s condemnation?

To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Reap What They’ve Sown

Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country. Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered, “From the land of Canaan, to buy grain for food.” Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see if our land is vulnerable!” But they exclaimed, “No, my lord! Your servants have come to buy grain for food! We are all the sons of one man; we are honest men! Your servants are not spies.” “No,” he insisted, “but you have come to see if our land is vulnerable.” They replied, “Your servants are from a family of twelve brothers. We are the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is with our father at this time, and one is no longer alive.” But Joseph told them, “It is just as I said to you: You are spies! You will be tested in this way: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not depart from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. One of you must go and get your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison. In this way your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If not, then, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” …

Genesis 42:6-24

When the brothers reached Egypt, they came before Joseph to purchase grain. It is unlikely that Joseph, the governor of Egypt, had to meet with all who bought food. There were granaries set near various cities, with administrators over those granaries, from which people could purchase (cf. Gen 41:34, 48). Most likely, Joseph only met with foreigners who were seeking to purchase grain. As Egypt was a world power and one of a few, if not the only nation, with abundant resources during this famine, they would have enemies who wanted to steal from Egypt or conquer it—to take its resources. Therefore, screening the foreigners, as a means of national security, was an important job that it appears Joseph felt he should personally oversee.

When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them instantly; however, they didn’t recognize him. Joseph was sold into slavery at seventeen years old, and he was now around thirty-nine. Also, Joseph was dressed in Egyptian clothing, speaking through an interpreter, and was clearly royalty—none of the brothers would have suspected that the Egyptian governor was Joseph, their younger brother whom they sold into slavery.

After Joseph recognized his brothers, instead of revealing himself, he chose to speak harshly to them. Again, this was clearly a test. Joseph needed to see if Benjamin and Jacob were alive. He needed to see if the brothers had mistreated either of them and if the brothers had become trustworthy men. Therefore, Joseph spoke harshly to them and accused them of being spies three times. With each reply, they gave more information: (1) First, they answered that they were from Canaan—trying to buy food (v. 7). (2) Next, they said they were brothers and had the same father (v. 11). (3) Finally, they said they came from a family with twelve brothers, the youngest was with their father, and the other was no longer alive (v. 13).

After the brothers revealed that they had a younger brother, Joseph said that they must send one person back to bring Benjamin, so he would believe they weren’t spies. He imprisoned them for three days and then decided to detain only one, Simeon, while the rest delivered grain to their family and then returned to Egypt with Benjamin.

Interpretation Question: Other than to test the brothers, for what other reason did Joseph accuse the brothers of spying and then imprison them?

Many commentators believe that Joseph was actually doing exactly what they had previously done to him. In Genesis 37:2, Joseph was working in the field with his older brothers, after which he related a bad report about them to Jacob. They had done something wrong—possibly neglecting their duties. After that, Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors, which showed how he was favored but also possibly indicated how he was to be their manager. These types of coats weren’t worn by workers—they were worn by royalty, those who didn’t engage in manual labor. This angered the brothers, but they became even angrier when Joseph was sent to see how they were doing while they shepherded far away from home. Possibly, when the brothers first saw Joseph, they said, “What are you doing here? Are you here to spy on us? Are you going to tell daddy?” Though Joseph appealed to them many times, they put him in a pit and then sold him to slave traders.

Evidence that they recognized that this man (not knowing, of course, that it was Joseph) was repeating what they had done to their own brother is evidenced in their response after being accused as spies and then imprisoned. While in prison, they said: “Surely we’re being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress has come on us!” (Gen 42:21). After they were subjected to similar treatment, they concluded that their circumstances were judgment for how they treated Joseph. Again, God was using Joseph to help the brothers remember their sin and repent.

God often does the same to us. We may think that nobody knows about some sin we’ve committed, but God knows. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.” We may think that we’re getting away with sin; however, there is a physical and spiritual principle operating in the world—what we sow, we will reap. When we sow apple seeds, we get an apple tree—not an orange tree. In the same way, our evil deeds and good ones have a way of reappearing in our lives. Numbers 32:23 (ESV) says, “be sure your sin will find you out.”

If we were an employee of a business or member of a church who complained and criticized our leadership, then many times, if we assume leadership positions, others will be inclined to criticize us. If we are dishonest in our dealings with others, we’ll often experience others being dishonest with us. Certainly, this was happening not only to the brothers but also to Jacob: He deceived his father, Isaac, to obtain the inheritance. Then his father-in-law, Laban, deceived him by giving him a different wife. Now, his ten sons were deceiving him about what happened to Joseph. His sins were finding him out. Similarly, God often does the same with us, allowing us to reap what we’ve sown in order to help us repent.

With that said, even after we have confessed our sins and experienced God’s forgiveness, many times the forgiveness doesn’t remove the negative fruit of the seeds we’ve sown. For example, after David repented for committing adultery with Uriah’s wife and murdering him, God assured him that he would not die, but that nonetheless, the sword would not depart from his house (2 Sam 12:10-13). His son, Absalom, killed another of David’s sons. Absalom slept with David’s concubines and also tried to kill David. Though forgiven, negative fruits still grew out of the seeds he had sown. Similarly, some have wondered if the tremendous persecutions Paul experienced might have, in part, been negative fruits of his initial persecution of the church. Among other things, he was stoned, whipped, beaten, and imprisoned (cf. 2 Cor 11:16-33), which were the same abuses he unleashed on Christians before he was saved (Acts 8-9). He was forgiven and redeemed, but the principles of sowing and reaping possibly were still at work in his life.

This principle has been noticed by most religions and even the unreligious—some call it karma. It seems that this is the way God made the world. Give and it will be given to you (Lk 6:38). Those who refresh others will also be refreshed (Prov 11:25). Those who show mercy to others will also receive mercy (Matt 5:7). What we sow, we will definitely reap, whether good or bad.

The principle of sowing and reaping is meant to turn us away from sin but also to encourage us to do good. In this narrative, the brothers experienced the fruit of what they had sown, and it reminded them of their unconfessed sin from more than twenty years earlier.

Interpretation Question: Why did Joseph choose to imprison Simeon and not some other brother?

It is possible that, after hearing that Reuben, the oldest, had tried to save him as the brothers discussed their circumstances (Gen 42:22), Joseph concluded that Simeon must have encouraged the treacherous act of his enslavement. Joseph knew the character of his brothers: Simeon was the second oldest. Along with Levi, they murdered the men of Shechem (Gen 34). Simeon was an ungodly person. In fact, when Jacob blesses the sons before he dies, Simeon and Levi received non-blessings. He called them weapons of violence and cursed their anger (Gen 49:5-7). Perhaps, that’s why Joseph imprisoned Simeon—maybe he needed it more than others. Certainly, Simeon was reaping what he had sown.

Application Question: How have you experienced reaping what was sown—both in a positive and negative sense? How should the principle of sowing and reaping encourage believers?

To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Experience His Kindness

Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return each man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. His orders were carried out. So they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. When one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey at their resting place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. He said to his brothers, “My money was returned! Here it is in my sack!” They were dismayed; they turned trembling one to another and said, “What in the world has God done to us?” … When they were emptying their sacks, there was each man’s bag of money in his sack! When they and their father saw the bags of money, they were afraid. Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me.”

Genesis 42:25-28, 35-36

When the brothers were going to leave for Canaan, Joseph first encouraged them with the fact that he “feared God” (v. 18). He wanted them to know that he was an honest man and that if they brought their younger brother back, he would free Simeon. Then, Joseph had his servants give them grain, return their money, and even give them provisions for the journey. On the way home, which would have taken perhaps three weeks of travel, they stopped to rest.1 While resting, one of the brothers checked his sack and found his money there. When the other brothers heard this, they all became afraid and said, “What in the world has God done to us?” (v. 28). In fact, when they got home, they all found their money returned—making them all, including Jacob, afraid (v. 35).

The reason they were afraid was because they thought the Egyptian governor might accuse them of stealing. However, it doesn’t seem that Joseph was trying to trick them—he was trying to show them that he was a God-fearing, honest, and generous man. Later, when the brothers returned to Egypt, they shared about the mix-up with Joseph’s servant—how they found the money in their sacks even though they paid. Joseph’s servant simply replied, “Everything is fine. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money” (Gen 43:23). If the servant truly received the money, it is likely that Joseph paid for them.

Similarly, that is how God often works in our lives to draw us to repentance. He not only sharpens our conscience by reminding us of our sin, allowing us to experience lack, and reap what we’ve sown, but he also allows us to experience grace—his unmerited favor. Romans 2:4 says that God’s kindness leads people to repentance.

Application Question: How do we experience God’s kindness which helps lead us to repentance?

1. Sometimes God’s kindness is experienced by his giving of mercy—not giving us what we deserve.

With regard to the brothers, they deserved to experience serious consequences for what they did to Joseph—potentially life in prison or even death. However, they only spent three days in prison. David’s story also illustrates God’s unmerited favor. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. According to the law, the punishment for each was death. But God was merciful. David still suffered consequences, but he would not die. If we look back over many of our sins, we will see that God was merciful with us, as well. He didn’t allow us to experience the full consequences of our sin as things could have been much worse. Certainly, this is true in salvation. We deserve death and eternal separation from God because of our sins; however, Christ bore our penalty. God’s mercy is meant to bring people to repentance. This is also true in sanctification, as God forgives us when we confess and repent of our sins (1 John 1:9). God’s kindness shown through mercy is meant to turn us away from sin and draw us back to himself.

2. Sometimes God’s kindness is experienced by his giving of grace—giving us what we don’t deserve.

Certainly, we see God’s grace as Joseph blesses his brothers with provisions for their journey, as well as providing grain without cost. Again, this was to help them understand that Joseph was ultimately just and gracious. God, too, gives us grace in many ways: (1) For unbelievers and believers, God bestows common grace. In Matthew 5:45, Christ describes how God gives rain and sunshine to the just and unjust alike. Though undeserved, God blesses even those who reject him. (2) He not only died to pay our penalty, but he also gives us his righteousness if we accept him as Lord and Savior (2 Cor 5:21, Rom 10:13). Christ’s death demonstrates mercy—canceling the penalty we deserve. God imputes Christ’s righteousness to our spiritual account and demonstrates his grace by giving us unmerited favor. And this gift is offered to all. It’s truly amazing grace. (3) Certainly, his grace is seen in many other ways as well: He may bless our careers, families, or hobbies, even when we’re not faithful. When Abraham lied about his wife being his sister, Pharaoh took her for marriage and gave Abraham great possessions. However, though Abraham lied, God cursed Pharaoh’s household—ultimately leading Pharaoh to return Abraham’s wife (Gen 12). Abraham left Egypt not only with his wife but with great wealth. Similarly, when Abraham lied about his wife to Abimelech—also leading Abimelech to take her—God cursed Abimelech’s house until she was restored (Gen 20). Certainly, this was a great example of God’s grace, his unmerited favor over Abraham, even while he was not trusting God to protect his family. The Psalmist describes how goodness and mercy follow believers all the days of their lives because God is their Shepherd (Ps 23:6). God loves his people; therefore, the grace and mercy he allows in their lives are meant to draw them to repentance.

Misinterpreting God’s Kindness

Despite these examples, we can understand how many misinterpret God’s kindness and therefore continue to reject God and hold onto their sin. For example, when the brothers received their money back, they cried out, “What in the world has God done to us?” (v. 28). Also, when Jacob realized their money was returned and that they needed to bring Benjamin back, he cried out, “Everything is against me” (v. 36). Joseph’s family misinterpreted God’s gracious dealings. The returned money was a symbol of God’s love and provision—not his judgment. Also, for Jacob, sending Benjamin back to Egypt would only restore Joseph to him and open the door for more blessings from God, as Egypt would provide long-term protection and provisions for them. To not send Benjamin only delayed God’s blessings.

Sadly, many of us misinterpret God’s kindness as well: We cry out like Jacob’s family, “Why are you doing this?! Everything is against me!” Nothing could be further from the truth. Even our trials are for our good (Rom 8:28). At any moment, God is doing millions of things for our eternal good. He is the Sovereign over natural events, chance meetings, good gifts, and even the evil of men and demons. God uses all these for our eternal good. Therefore, we should recognize them as such and give thanks in all circumstances instead of complaining (1 Thess 5:18). When we don’t give thanks, but instead cling to wrong attitudes about God, others, or our circumstances, we can miss out on God’s blessings. Therefore, repentance tarries and so does our experience of God’s perfect plan.

Application Question: How does God reveal his kindness even to unbelievers in order to draw them to repentance? In what ways have you experienced God’s kindness in such a way that it drew you to repentance and worship? Do you remember a time when you misinterpreted God’s kindness—maybe through a trial or other confusing event—that ultimately worked out for your good? If so, please share.

Conclusion

How does God lead people to repentance? We get a clear picture of this from God’s work in the lives of Jacob’s brothers. Like Joseph, they had a great calling. They were to be heads of the tribes of Israel—the nation God called to be missionaries to the world. To fulfill this calling, God needed to change their character and bring them to repentance. God used circumstances and Joseph to begin the process of transforming their stony hearts into hearts of flesh.

  1. To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Experience Lack
  2. To Bring Repentance, God Often Awakens People’s Consciences through Reminders of Unconfessed Sin
  3. To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Reap What They’ve Sown
  4. To Bring Repentance, God Often Allows People to Experience His Kindness

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 1007). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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