6. How God Changes Hearts (Genesis 43-44)Related Media
Now the famine was severe in the land. When they finished eating the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Return, buy us a little more food.” … Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me and we will go immediately. Then we will live and not die—we and you and our little ones. I myself pledge security for him; you may hold me liable. If I do not bring him back to you and place him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life…
Genesis 43-44 (NET)
How does God change people’s hearts?
In Genesis 37-41, the focus was on God’s development of Joseph for leadership in Egypt, so he could save not only his family but many nations during a world-wide famine. In Genesis 42-44, the focus is God’s development of Joseph’s brothers, who had previously sold Joseph into slavery. Not only did God have plans to use Joseph greatly, but also his brothers. They would be the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. However, before that, God needed to change their character. He had to deliver them from being untrustworthy scoundrels to being men who followed the Lord.
God does the same in the lives of all those he plans to use in a special way: God shaped and established Moses’ character for forty years in the wilderness before calling him to lead. He shaped and fortified Jacob’s character by allowing him to experience years of servanthood and humility, so as to deliver him from deceitful practices and help him to trust God more. God also refined Joseph through many trials, and now God was speeding up the development of the brothers’ character—which needed a lot of work.
In Genesis 42, the brothers went down to Egypt to get grain during a world-wide famine. There, Joseph recognized them and initially treated them harshly. Joseph was not seeking revenge; he was testing his brothers to discern their character: Were they the same evil men who sold him into slavery? Had they also mistreated Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin? Had they mistreated their father, Jacob? Therefore, Joseph imprisoned them for three days, then released them on the condition that they would go get Benjamin and bring him back to Egypt while Simeon remained in prison. This was part of how God was preparing the brothers—revealing their previous sins, which they had suppressed. While they were imprisoned, they confessed to one another how they were receiving their just punishment for how they treated Joseph (Gen 42:21-22). God used Joseph’s harsh treatment to remind them of and help them confess their sin; however, God wasn’t through with them at this point. Not only did the brothers need to confess, they needed new character. In fact, many commentators believe that previously the brothers weren’t even redeemed. They were born into a family of faith but had not adopted that faith for themselves. They murdered a village of men; Reuben, the oldest, committed incest with his father’s wife; Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, believing she was a prostitute, and all of them, with the exception of Benjamin, had something to do with Joseph’s slavery in Egypt. They needed not only to confess their sins; they needed a reformation of their character—new hearts.
In Genesis 43-44, their growth in character is very apparent. In fact, not only were they becoming more godlike, so was Jacob. Therefore, in this study, we’ll learn how God changes people’s hearts—making them more like himself.
Big Question: In what ways does God change people’s hearts—preparing them for greater service—as discerned from the Genesis 43-44 narrative?
God Changes Our Hearts through the Accountability of Others
Now the famine was severe in the land. When they finished eating the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Return, buy us a little more food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you send our brother with us, we’ll go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we won’t go down there because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had one more brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us thoroughly about ourselves and our family, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we answered him in this way. How could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me and we will go immediately. Then we will live and not die—we and you and our little ones. I myself pledge security for him; you may hold me liable. If I do not bring him back to you and place him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. But if we had not delayed, we could have traveled there and back twice by now!” Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and take a gift down to the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachios and almonds. Take double the money with you; you must take back the money that was returned in the mouths of your sacks—perhaps it was an oversight. Take your brother too, and go right away to the man. May the sovereign God grant you mercy before the man so that he may release your other brother and Benjamin! As for me, if I lose my children I lose them.”
In the beginning of this narrative, we see that the famine persisted throughout the ancient world. Though Jacob’s family had previously received abundant provisions from Egypt, they apparently didn’t last long, perhaps only three months or so. We can discern this from the fact that Judah rebukes his father, saying if they had returned to Egypt earlier, they could have gone and returned twice within the time frame (43:10). Traveling round trip between Canaan and Egypt typically took about six weeks—twelve weeks to do it twice. Therefore, it hadn’t been very long since the brothers returned. Previously, Jacob forcibly told the brothers that Benjamin would not go to Egypt with them, as he was afraid Benjamin might die (42:38).
After most of the provisions were used up, Jacob said, “Return and buy a little more food” (43:2). In response, Judah challenged him saying that they would not return without Benjamin. The Egyptian ruler swore that they would not see his face without their brother. Jacob simply responded, “Why did you tell him in the first place about your brother?” (43:6). As one might imagine, this argument probably happened several times over the previous months. Judah, who apparently had become the leader of the brothers, pledged security for Benjamin—he would take care of him at all costs (43:9).
At this point, there is a change in Jacob. Where he previously was hard-hearted and unwilling to send Benjamin, he now agrees. He tells them to take some of the best products of the land and to bring double the money to the ruler, as previously, their payment was mysteriously returned to them. Jacob also prayed for the brothers: “May the sovereign God grant you mercy before the man so that he may release your other brother and Benjamin!” And then he said, “As for me, if I lose my children I lose them” (43:14). This was a remarkable change. It also doesn’t seem to be pessimism. Rather, it was Jacob deciding to trust God’s sovereign will. It was like Christ saying, “Take this cup from me but nevertheless your will be done.” Jacob, who in the previous chapter, was pessimistic, saying, “Everything is against me” (Gen 42:36); now he trusts God’s sovereign hand.
In fact, this character change is even seen in the fact that the narrator, Moses, uses the name “Israel” instead of “Jacob” in this chapter (43:6, 8, 11). In the ancient culture, names reflected someone’s character. Previously, after Abram’s name was changed to “Abraham” (Gen 17:5), his new name was always used. That represented a “profound and prominent change in his character.”1 However, with Jacob, most times his old named is used—probably showing how his old character as a deceiver was still prevalent. The name “Israel” has not been used since Genesis 37:13.2 After Joseph’s supposed death, it seemingly devastated Jacob, and from that point in his life, he mourned for twenty-two years—not trusting God as he should. In fact, he promised that he would mourn in such a way: In Genesis 37:35, Jacob declared to his sons, “I will go to the grave mourning my son.”
This happens to many believers. They are growing in Christ, demonstrating more and more the character of “Israel,” and then some trial or unexpected experience sets them back to their previous character—sometimes for years. They doubt God’s goodness and therefore revert back to their old habits. Again, with Jacob, he carried bitterness from Joseph’s loss for twenty-two years. However, in this chapter, God not only began to restore Jacob’s children’s character, but also his own.
Observation Question: In Genesis 43:1-14, how was God changing Jacob’s character?
Certainly, God used the persisting famine as a season of testing and growth for Jacob, but he also worked through Jacob’s son, Judah. Judah, the one who convinced the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery (37:26-27), now was leading in a positive way. He confronted Jacob’s irrationalism, pointing out that by keeping Benjamin home, they all would die (43:8). Also, he promised to protect Benjamin with his life.
This is a recurring method by which God changes our character. He uses the love and accountability of others. With David, God used Nathan. When David was in rebellion towards God after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, the prophet Nathan boldly confronted David—leading him to repent (2 Sam 12). When Peter was compromising with the circumcision group by not eating with Gentiles, Paul confronted him as well (Gal 2). Though David and Peter were godly men, they both had periods of walking in unrepentant sin and needed others to hold them accountable. Paul said this to Timothy, “But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22). Timothy needed to run away from sinful passions and pursue righteousness with a company of believers who were genuinely pursuing the Lord. That was the only way he was going to be successful in his spiritual life, and it’s the same for us. James says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (5:16). By confessing our sins to others and receiving their prayers, God often delivers us from many evils.
Even godly people become discouraged, doubt God, and compromise with sin. For Jacob, it happened after the loss of his son, and he needed Judah to speak truth into his life, so he could start to live like “Israel” again—a man of faith.
Who is speaking into your life? Who is the company of believers that is loving you and holding you accountable as you flee sin and pursue God? To whom do you confess your sins to in order to receive prayer and healing? These are some of the ways that God changes our hearts.
Application Question: Why is having the accountability of godly brothers and sisters so important for our spiritual growth? What makes these types of relationships difficult? How should we develop accountability relationships with others? Who are the Judahs, Nathans, or Pauls in your life who challenge and encourage you in the midst of your spiritual struggles?
God Changes Our Hearts through Repeated Experiences of His Love
The servant in charge brought the men into Joseph’s house. He gave them water, and they washed their feet. Then he gave food to their donkeys. They got their gifts ready for Joseph’s arrival at noon, for they had heard that they were to have a meal there. When Joseph came home, they presented him with the gifts they had brought inside, and they bowed down to the ground before him. He asked them how they were doing. Then he said, “Is your aging father well, the one you spoke about? Is he still alive?” “Your servant our father is well,” they replied. “He is still alive.” They bowed down in humility. When Joseph looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, “Is this your youngest brother, whom you told me about?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” Joseph hurried out, for he was overcome by affection for his brother and was at the point of tears. So he went to his room and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. With composure he said, “Set out the food.” They set a place for him, a separate place for his brothers, and another for the Egyptians who were eating with him. (The Egyptians are not able to eat with Hebrews, for the Egyptians think it is disgusting to do so.) They sat before him, arranged by order of birth, beginning with the firstborn and ending with the youngest. The men looked at each other in astonishment. He gave them portions of the food set before him, but the portion for Benjamin was five times greater than the portions for any of the others. They drank with Joseph until they all became drunk.
When the ten brothers went to Egypt, they were immediately invited to Joseph’s house for a meal (43:16-17). With such a kind gesture, the brothers immediately became afraid—thinking that it wasn’t genuine. They said to themselves, “He must be about to enslave us” (43:18). It was common knowledge that high officials in Egypt often had prisons in their homes—just as Potiphar did (Gen 40:3). So they immediately told Joseph’s interpreter that they had brought double the money, as their previous payment was put back into their sacks. The servant simply replied, “I had your money, the God of your fathers must have returned it to you” (v. 23 paraphrase). Clearly, the servant believed in the Israelite God—he probably was taught about Yahweh by Joseph.
The servant continued to show them kindness—he gave them water for their feet and food for their donkeys (43:24). After that, Joseph came home and showed further kindness by inquiring about their welfare and that of their father (43:27). Then Joseph saw Benjamin and asked if he was the younger brother. Before they could answer him, he blessed Benjamin saying, “May God be gracious to you, my son” (43:29). After meeting Benjamin, Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion, went to his room to cry, and then returned (43:30). Joseph will cry seven times throughout his narrative.
Next, the people were arranged in separate groups for the meal—the brothers together, then the servants, and Joseph by himself. Egyptians believed they originated from the gods and that other people were from lesser origins3; therefore, it would have been shameful to eat with the Hebrews. Joseph was separated because of his high rank. Egypt was a very segregated society. This insight about the Egyptians may give further information into how the Hebrews eventually became slaves. Ethnic pride and pride in one’s social class are poisonous roots that often lead to hate-crimes such as enslavement and genocide. Any types of partiality and prejudice are incompatible with being followers of the true God (cf. Jam 2:1-13).
After the people were segregated, the brothers were arranged from oldest to youngest, which was shocking to the brothers (43:33). They were amazed and bewildered as to how this personal knowledge about their correct birth order was known. Maybe they suspected that the Egyptian ruler had used some type of prophetic powers. Then Joseph had a feast set before the brothers and when the food was served, Benjamin got five portions more than any other brother (43:34). The next day, further kindness was shown to them as they were given abundant supplies and had their money returned (44:1).
This was not the first time that they received special blessings from the Egyptian ruler. Previously, when they first left Egypt, the ruler returned their money (42:25). This was the ruler’s way of showing them that though he was harsh, he also was honest and kind. Ultimately, the Egyptian ruler was representing God to the brothers. Romans 13:1-7 says that authorities are God’s servants meant to reward the righteous and punish wrong-doers. In some sense, all authorities, including parents, are meant to represent God to others.
Through Joseph, God was demonstrating his love for the brothers, even though they were sinners. As mentioned in the study of Genesis 42, God’s kindness is meant to lead people to repentance (Rom 2:4). God demonstrates his love to unbelievers and believers through his common grace—rain, sunshine, life, breath, and every other good thing. He also demonstrates his love ultimately through Christ—Christ coming to earth as a man and dying for the sins of the world, so that whosoever believes in him can be saved (John 3:16).
In fact, accepting God’s love not only saves us, but also transforms us. Consider what Paul prayed for the Ephesians:
I pray that… you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16, 18-19
The reason Paul prayed for them to comprehend Christ’s love was so that they would be flooded with the fullness of God. Being filled with God seems to represent being empowered and controlled by him. It parallels Ephesians 5:18, where believers are called to not get drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit. In the same way that wine can control a person, so can God’s Spirit. One of the ways God fills and empowers us for good works is through our comprehension of his love. People who are most on fire for God are typically people who most comprehend God’s amazing love.
John said that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When we comprehend God’s love, it removes fears and worries about the future or some trial we are going through. We trust that God is controlling all events and working them specifically for our good (Rom 8:28). Understanding his love gives us peace. Also, understanding God’s love empowers us to serve. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said “the love of Christ controls us” or “compels us.” Why did Paul spend so much time evangelizing, preaching God’s Word, and suffering persecution? It was because he was controlled and empowered by God’s love. The more we know God’s love, the more we will serve him.
Application Question: How can we comprehend the love of Christ and be transformed by it?
1. We comprehend the love of Christ by praying for it.
Certainly, this is clear from Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians to comprehend the depth, height, and width of Christ’s love for them. As we pray for it, God will help us know it in a variety of ways.
2. We comprehend the love of Christ through receiving love from others.
Paul says that “you may be able to comprehend ‘with all the saints’…” (Eph 3:18). Certainly, as others love us by caring for us, rebuking us, and walking beside us, we know more of God’s love. This is what God was doing to the brothers through Joseph. He was loving on them in the midst of a famine. He was loving on them even though they had done much wrong.
This also reminds us of why it’s important for us to accept love from others. For some, it is easy to give love but hard to receive it. Pride can be an obstacle to accepting prayer from others, financial help, counsel, or other forms of support, and therefore a barrier to experiencing and knowing God’s love, which comes through the body of believers.
3. We comprehend the love of Christ by loving others.
Paul told the Philippians how he longed for them with the affections of Christ (Phil 1:8). Paul discerned that his love for the Philippians was supernatural—originating from Christ himself. Many experience this when they become parents. As they love their children, they sense how God loves his children, as well. Also, we often experience this when genuinely loving our enemies. Often in the midst of forgiving those who hurt us, praying for them, and serving them, people experience God’s heart for them, and it’s as if the suffering and hurt they caused are removed and only love remains (cf. Rom 12:18-21). Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” As we love and serve our enemies, it not only changes their hearts but ours as well. Good overcomes the evil in us.
This is how God changes hearts. As we experience his love, he transforms us—we are filled with the fullness of God and made more into his image. Certainly, God was doing that in the lives of the brothers through Joseph, as he was preparing them for a great work—becoming the heads of a nation that would bless the world.
Application Question: When are the times that you feel God’s love the most—while praying, serving, meditating, during trials? Why do you think you experience God’s love most at those times? How is God calling you to seek to comprehend his love in a deeper way?
God Changes Our Hearts through Repeated Tests
He instructed the servant who was over his household, “Fill the sacks of the men with as much food as they can carry and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup—the silver cup—in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the money for his grain.” He did as Joseph instructed. When morning came, the men and their donkeys were sent off. They had not gone very far from the city when Joseph said to the servant who was over his household, “Pursue the men at once! When you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Doesn’t my master drink from this cup and use it for divination? You have done wrong!’” When the man overtook them, he spoke these words to them. They answered him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Look, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. Why then would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If one of us has it, he will die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves!” He replied, “You have suggested your own punishment! The one who has it will become my slave, but the rest of you will go free.” So each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. Then the man searched. He began with the oldest and finished with the youngest. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack! They all tore their clothes! Then each man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
After Joseph had his servant give the brothers grain and return their money, he also had the servant place a silver cup into Benjamin’s sack (44:2). Why was Joseph doing this? He was re-creating the temptation that led to his enslavement. Previously, because the brothers were jealous of him, they sold him into slavery for silver. They didn’t care about his livelihood or their father’s heart. Joseph had already given Benjamin five more portions than the brothers, even as Jacob had given Joseph a coat of many colors, which made the brothers jealous. Now, Joseph was going to accuse Benjamin of stealing the cup and enslave him. Joseph’s purpose was to see how the brothers would respond: Were they the same people? Did they only care about themselves and not their brother and father? Or had they matured?
In a similar fashion, God tests us, both to prove our character and to develop it. In Genesis 22:1, the narrator says that “God tested Abraham” by commanding him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Did Abraham love God more than he loved Isaac? Did Abraham believe God’s promise that through Isaac a nation would come? After Abraham passed the test, God promised not only that a nation would come through Abraham’s seed, but also the messiah would come and bless the nations. God said, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen 22:18 NIV, cf. Gal 3:16). Passing God’s test always leads to blessing. In Luke 4, God tested Christ by leading him by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Would the Son of Man fall to temptation in the wilderness, as Adam did in the garden? Or would he obey God’s Word and eventually crush the head of the serpent? When Christ passed the test, Scripture says he left the wilderness empowered by the Holy Spirit and then began his ministry of preaching, healing, and discipling (Lk 4:14-15, Matt 4:12-25). Passing the test led to blessing.
It’s the same for us. As God tested Abraham and Christ, God tests us. First Peter 1:6-7 (ESV) says:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter not only says trials test the “genuineness” of our faith but also that they are only given “if necessary.” It was necessary for Joseph’s brothers to be tested. They needed character founded on God’s truth, mercy, and grace to become the heads of the tribes of Israel. On one occasion, after Israel failed the test by worshiping idols while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, God, in anger, said he was going to wipe Israel out and make a great nation out of Moses instead (Ex 32:10). If it wasn’t for Moses’ intercession, God would have done that (Ex 32:11-14). Similarly, if these brothers couldn’t pass the test, God might have chosen to develop the nation of Israel through Joseph and Benjamin alone. The brothers needed the right character to receive the promise. Likewise, the Israelites who initially went into the promised land failed their test. They didn’t believe God could enable them to conquer giants, so God allowed them to die in the wilderness. Then he brought their children into the promised land. God only allows us to go through the test “if necessary” to complete us and prepare us to bring a greater glory to God.
In fact, with Jacob, if he had trusted God after their first return, their test in the famine would have been shorter. Instead of waiting three months, they could have immediately returned with Benjamin, passed the test, been restored as a family, and received the continual protection of Egypt. However, Jacob’s lack of faith made the test longer. Sometimes, it’s that way with us: We don’t believe God’s promises about his good future for us and therefore live in worry and anxiety instead of peace. Sometimes in our own relationships, we choose to hold on to bitterness instead of immediately forgiving others. When we harbor bitterness, we cannot receive God’s blessing of restoration. Instead of practicing the spiritual discipline of giving, we choose not to give at all and therefore miss God’s promise of meeting all our needs and his provisions for greater righteousness (2 Cor 9:7-8). Instead of practicing the discipline of delighting in and reading God’s Word, we neglect it and miss the promises of bearing fruit in season and prospering in everything we do, including trials (Ps 1:2-3). Therefore, our tests often continue longer than they should. We repeat them until we pass the tests—developing the character God desires for us. That’s what was happening with Jacob and his sons.
For Jacob, he was bitter for more than twenty years after Joseph’s death. Even when God was trying to re-unite them, Jacob cried out, “Everything is against me.” He just didn’t trust God, and his distrust prolonged their reunion. In this narrative, Jacob finally says, “If God takes all my children so be it” (paraphrased). Essentially, he says, “God, your will be done.” And for the brothers, it had been over twenty years of selfishness—loving themselves more than Joseph, Benjamin, and their father. Now they were repeating the test until they passed it.
One of the ways God changes our character is through repeated tests. Passing the tests lead to blessing and failing leads to discipline and repeating the test.
Application Question: Why does God test us if he already knows our hearts (cf. Dt 8:2)? What are some practices that help us pass our tests instead of failing them? Share any tests that you feel God has brought you through or that you’ve had to repeat, and what you’ve learned from them.
God Changes Our Hearts through Us Sacrificially Loving Others
So Judah and his brothers came back to Joseph’s house. He was still there, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What did you think you were doing? Don’t you know that a man like me can find out things like this by divination?” Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has exposed the sin of your servants! We are now my lord’s slaves, we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.” … “So now, when I return to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us—his very life is bound up in his son’s life. When he sees the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father in sorrow to the grave. Indeed, your servant pledged security for the boy with my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame before my father all my life.’ “So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave instead of the boy. As for the boy, let him go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father’s pain.”
Genesis 44:14-16, 30-34
When the servant caught up to the brothers, he accused them of stealing Joseph’s silver cup, which he used for divination (44:4-6). Did Joseph really use the cup for divination? Since Joseph was so faithful to God, probably not. It was probably part of the act. As an Egyptian ruler, he was expected to both be a political and priestly leader.4 Ancient records show that bowls or cups in the ancient world were commonly used to discern the future. Pagans believed that divine spirits caused reflections in the water, and that the alignment of particles in the water revealed the future.5
When the brothers were accused, they countered that they had brought back the payment for the previous food, so why would they steal a cup? Then they declared that whoever was found with the cup would die and the rest of them would become the ruler’s slaves (44:8-9). The servant replied that only the person with the cup would become a slave. When the servant checked all of the luggage, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Therefore, the brothers tore their clothes and returned to Egypt (44:10-13).
When they got back to Joseph’s house, Judah again spoke for the brothers. After Reuben’s committing incest and Simeon’s and Levi’s murder of the men in a village, he was the fourth oldest and now the apparent leader. Judah said to Joseph, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves?” (44:16). He recognized that there was nothing they could say or do to clear their name—the evidence was too strong. In fact, Judah said, “God has exposed the sin of your servants!” (44:16). What did he mean by that? He either meant that the evidence was conclusive, and therefore, someone must have stolen the cup, or he was confessing that God was punishing them for other sins—possibly their enslavement of Joseph (cf. Gen 42:21). Then Judah shared that all the brothers would become Joseph’s slaves—not just Benjamin (44:18). Joseph replied, “No.” Only the person who stole the cup would become a slave (44:17).
Then Judah recounts the story of the Egyptian ruler asking them to bring Benjamin, how their father Jacob had lost a previous son, and how Jacob’s life was bound with Benjamin’s. If Benjamin did not return to Jacob, Jacob would die. Judah could not watch his father die, and therefore requested to take Benjamin’s place (44:18-34).
In doing this, it was clear to Joseph that all his brothers had changed. They were all willing to be slaves with Benjamin, and Judah offered to take Benjamin’s place while everyone else went home. They now cared more for their father and brother than their own lives. No longer were they the same selfish, untrustworthy people. And Judah, the very brother who had encouraged the others to sell Joseph into slavery, was now willing to sacrifice himself for Benjamin (cf. 37:26-27). Their transformation was complete; and therefore, Joseph wept uncontrollably and revealed his identity to them (Gen 45).
With that said, this is exactly what God is trying to do in all our lives. He is aiming to make us just like Christ, who willingly died on the cross to please his Father and take the place of those he loved (John 3:16, 10:11). In fact, Romans 8:28-29 says,
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters
God is making all of us into the image of his Son—including the Son’s sacrificial nature.
It was this same character trait that we saw in Moses as well. When God was going to destroy the Israelites for creating an idol in the wilderness and worshiping it instead of God, Moses interceded for them, saying: “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:31-32 NIV).
Similarly, Paul said this about Israel:
I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, who are Israelites…
Judah, Moses, and Paul demonstrated sacrificial love because Christ was their Master, and Christ’s love was being manifest in them. In fact, Christ said this to all his disciples: “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Christ said this shortly before he went to the cross. He called for all his disciples to love each other sacrificially. In fact, this sacrificial love marks all true believers. In the early church, they sold all they had so the poor could have enough (Acts 2). This is what God is doing in each true believer—creating a sacrificial love in them. Romans 5:5 says, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” He has given us this supernatural love; we just have to grow in it and walk in it.
Are you growing in love for God and others? It’s often while serving people that God’s sacrificial love begins to grow in us. As it does, God delivers us from selfishness and prepares us for greater blessings. For Judah, after God developed the sacrificial nature of Christ in him, God chose for the messiah to come through his lineage. Before Jacob died, he prophesied: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him” (Gen 49:10). Similarly, as we demonstrate Christ’s sacrificial love in our lives, God will use and bless us more.
Application Question: How does God create a sacrificial, loving nature inside us? What experiences has God used to develop more sacrificial love in your life? What are some specific ways that we can practice sacrificially loving others? Who is God calling you to sacrificially love—spending time with them, encouraging them, etc.?
How does God change people’s hearts? We learn much about this as we watch Jacob begin to manifest the characteristics of “Israel” again—somebody who trusted God. Also, we see it in how God transformed all the brothers, particularly Judah. Judah initiated Joseph’s slavery but later offered himself to become a slave in place of Benjamin.
God’s work of changing people’s hearts often takes a long time and, at least on this earth, it doesn’t happen apart from our submission and effort (Phil 2:12-13); however, we can be confident that God will complete this work. In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” For Jacob and his sons, it took almost twenty-two years. Though at times long in coming, God’s work is perfect. We can trust he will complete his work in our hearts and in all his children’s hearts as well.
- God Changes Our Hearts through the Accountability of Others
- God Changes Our Hearts through Repeated Experiences of His Love
- God Changes Our Hearts through Repeated Tests
- God Changes Our Hearts through Us Sacrificially Loving Others
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 1025). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
2 Morris, H. M. (1976). The Genesis record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings (p. 605). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 Guzik, D. (2013). Genesis (Ge 43:31–32). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
4 Morris, H. M. (1976). The Genesis record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings (p. 613). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
5 Morris, H. M. (1976). The Genesis record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings (p. 613). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.