8. The Truth About Reconciliation, Pt. 2: Trust Must Be Earned (Gen. 42:29-44:34)Related Media
In the previous edition (Part 7) of this series on Joseph, our subject was: “The Truth About Reconciliation: The Conscience Must Be Activated.” We noticed that the process Joseph followed in dealing with his brothers and their offences against him was solidly based on the principles of Scripture regarding forgiveness. The process of forgiveness is not without its challenges, as each case must be evaluated on its own circumstances. In dealing with significant offences, the biblical process is that the offender must repent and confess before forgiveness can be extended and reconciliation take place.
Nonetheless, throughout this process, grace must blanket all our dealings with the offender so that he / she knows that we hold no ill feelings towards them and that we are willing to forgive. The overriding objective is to “win our brother / sister” not only to be reconciled with us but more particularly to be reconciled to God. This principle and process is supported in the N.T. by such texts as Matt. 18:15-20 (dealing with church discipline of a sinning brother), as well as in texts that deal with the reconciliation of a sinner to God – repentance and confession leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.
The foundation of reconciliation is trust. That’s our subject in this message on reconciliation: Trust must be earned. The overriding principle that we will learn from our passage is that “trust is the foundation of true, full, and lasting reconciliation.”
The question in Joseph’s mind is surely about trust. Are his brothers telling him the truth or not? Have they truly repented or are they merely sorry that they are in trouble? Are they changed men? Can he safely proceed to the next step – namely, to reveal himself to them, express his forgiveness, and be reconciled to them? Can he trust them?
Notice firstly that…
I. Trust Must Be Earned With Everyone Else Involved (Gen. 42:29-38)
Joseph’s brothers’ returned home to face a standoff with Jacob (42:29-36). Upon returning to Canaan the brothers recounted to Jacob everything that had happened in Egypt, including (1) the harsh treatment by “the man who is lord of the land” (42:30), who “spoke roughly to us and took us for spies of the country” (42:30); (2) their self-defense as to their honesty and family background (42:31-32); (3) the refusal by “the man, the lord of the country” (42:33) to believe them; and (4) his test of their honesty by keeping Simeon hostage and demanding that they return with Benjamin (42:33-34). These were the terms on which they could return and “trade in the land” (42:34). This was the ultimatum: “Do what I say or starve to death in Canaan.”
Then, the plot got even more complicated. Upon opening their sacks of grain in front of Jacob, they found that, not only had one of them received his money back in his sack, but they all had! “Surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid” (42:35).
Immediately, Jacob weighed in on the situation. He was, understandably, vexed and this revealed his own misgivings and distrust of his sons. “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me” (42:36). Clearly, Jacob holds them responsible for Joseph’s disappearance and now Simeon’s.
So, Reuben tries to persuade Jacob (42:37-38). Reuben is the negotiator, the compromise maker. Years before he tried to negotiate a compromise with his brothers when they were bound and bent on killing Joseph (35:22). And now he tries to negotiate with Jacob, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands and I will bring him back to you” (42:37). Of course, this was a ridiculous and totally irrational offer. Did he really think that Jacob would kill his own two grandsons if Benjamin failed to come back? What kind of security would this afford Jacob? None! In fact, it would only add to his tragic loss.
Anyway, Jacob didn’t trust Reuben, understandably. He didn’t trust him because Reuben had had sex with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (35:22), something that Jacob resented until his dying day (49:3-4). And, he didn’t trust Reuben because, as the oldest son, he should have protected Joseph but had failed miserably to do so. Oh, Reuben had probably tried to rationalize everything: (1) that Bilhah was only his father’s concubine and anyway, how can something that feels so good be so wrong; (2) that he had at least saved Joseph from death at that time; (3) that he had planned on returning to rescue Joseph from the pit; and (4) that it was just “unlucky” timing that, before he got there, the other brothers had sold Joseph to slave traders - there was nothing he could have done about it.
Human beings are masters at self-rationalizations. We can rationalize just about anything if we want to. We can even rationalize sin as being God’s will! Like leaving one’s spouse to go live with another woman, as some have argued.
To give Reuben the benefit of the doubt here, perhaps this offer to kill his two sons was Reuben’s attempt to gain back his father’s trust and to fulfill his responsibility as the oldest son. But, Jacob was intransigent – he wouldn’t budge. “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother (Joseph) is dead and he (Simeon) is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave (42:38). Reuben’s attempt to regain his father’s trust and broker a deal to help his brothers failed once more.
Sometimes, trust cannot be regained easily. Relationships can be fractured so badly that they are beyond repair, at least for a time. I think that’s why Jesus affirmed that divorce is an option when one spouse commits sexual immorality - such an act can so destroy trust that, sometimes, it cannot be regained. The act of sexual immorality effectively “kills” the marriage relationship and to renew it might not be possible. So, Reuben’s offer failed to persuade Jacob and it seemed that for the time being, life back at the ranch carried on for a while (43:1-2). They had grain now from Egypt (9 sacks full in fact) but that eventually ran out.
Hunger is a powerful motivator, isn’t it? Do you know that people will do anything to satisfy hunger - it’s a built-in survival response. Mothers will steal, kill, prostitute themselves or whatever it takes to feed their children. And we shouldn’t sit here and moralize about that since we are not in their situation.
The prospect of hunger arouses Jacob to revisit this issue of going back to Egypt, so he said to the brothers, “Go back, buy us a little food” (43:2). But to go back meant he is going to have to rethink the whole issue of sending Benjamin.
Previously, Reuben had tried to persuade Jacob; this time Judah tries to persuade Jacob (43:1-10). Judah reminds Jacob of Joseph’s demand that they bring Benjamin with them (43:3), saying, in effect, “So, Daddy dear, if you want us to go back to Egypt, Benjamin must come with us, otherwise we aren’t going. Take it or leave it.” (43:4-5). It was one thing for Jacob to deny this request earlier when they had food but now the food was all gone.
But Jacob is still resentful, distrustful. “Why did you deal so wrongfully with me as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?” (43:6). In Jacob’s convoluted way of thinking, when the brothers told Joseph about their younger brother Benjamin back home, they were “dealing wrongfully with me” (i.e. Jacob). Why did Jacob think it had anything to do with him? Because he was pleading the “poor me” approach now. Well the answer is simple: “The man (whoever he is) asked us pointedly about ourselves and our family saying, “Is your father still alive? Have you another brother (43:7a), Judah replied, “So, that’s why we told him. How were we to know he would tell us to bring Benjamin down there?” (43:7b).
Then Judah played his final card. “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him: from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring home back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (43:8-9). “Trust me,” Judah says, “not Reuben or the others – just me. In fact,” he continues, “if you had agreed the first time, we would already have been there and back by now” (43:10). It’s as though he is blaming Jacob for the delay and for their present dire circumstances.
Finally Jacob relents (43:11-14). He had no other choice – let Benjamin go or die. So, “If it must be so, then do this. Take some of the best fruit of the land in your vessels and carry down a gift for the man – a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. And take double the money in your hand, and take back the money that was returned in your sacks – perhaps it was an oversight (43:11-12). Jacob, ever the schemer, adds a sweetener to the deal with a gift for “the man” (whoever he is; whatever his name is). In addition, they were to take double the money they had taken before (just in case they needed it), as well as the money that had been returned to them. Perhaps the returned money was an “oversight.” Well, no harm in some positive thinking, is there? “I mean, surely my boys wouldn’t have knowingly stolen the money, would they? It must have been an oversight.”
“And take your brother also and arise, go back to the man. And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man that he may release your brother and Benjamin (43:13-14a). It’s funny how people start talking in terms of “God” when things get desperate, isn’t it? When you’re in trouble, it just seems to be the right thing to start calling on God. “Anyway, when it’s all said and done,” Jacob says, “if I’m bereaved, I’m bereaved (43:14b). A kind of matter-of-fact fatalism takes over – “whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.”
So, not only must trust be earned with everyone else involved (for all of them were implicated in this), but in addition…
II. Trust Must Be Earned Specifically With The Offended Party (43:15-44:34)
The boys arrived back in Egypt, only to be ushered into the governor’s mansion for a surprise welcome in Egypt (43:15-34). Just the sight of Benjamin puts Joseph in a celebratory mood. They’re all going to enjoy a noon-hour banquet (43:16). Like the father in Luke 15, Joseph must have thought: “This my brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.” For him this was cause for rejoicing. But for them, it was cause for fear, which generates their rationalization of what was happening: “It’s because of the money which was returned in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may make a case against us and seize us, to take us as slaves with our donkeys” (43:18).
So, what would you do if you were in their shoes? You would probably do exactly what they did – to plead their case to someone who has influence with Joseph. So, they told Joseph’s steward what had happened, how they had discovered the money in their sacks on their way home the last time. “So we have brought it back in our hand and we have brought down other money in our hands to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks” (43:21-22). “Honestly,” they say. “Scouts honor. Cross our hearts and dare to die. We didn’t know.” (That’s just my free flowing translation).
To their utter shock, the steward reveals the mystery. “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money (43:23a). Really? God actually did that? Our God? “Yes, that’s right. Your God is in control - I put the money in your sacks.” They were learning great things about their God – how their God acts on their behalf even through a pagan Egyptian! “Well, wad’ya know!”
So, the noon hour party took place. They gave Joseph the presents they brought for him and “bowed down before him to the earth” (43:26). Then Joseph inquired about their father “and they bowed their heads down and prostrated themselves (43:28). Within two verses (26 and 28) they bowed down twice before Joseph. They must have been getting weak in the knees by now with all these push-ups. Joseph’s dream was coming true!
Then Joseph looked right at Benjamin. He couldn’t have recognized him after all this time for he had grown from a one year old into a 23 year old man. But perhaps there was something about his features, or his movements, or his demeanor that he recognized. After all, they were blood brothers with the same mother and father. And immediately, Joseph pronounced a benediction on him, “God be gracious to you, my son” (43:29).
There’s more talk about God here than they have heard in years. Actually, they didn’t want to hear about God or talk about God before. After all, who wants to talk about God when you’ve done what they’ve done. When sin is present in your life the last thing you want to talk about is God. Your conscience cries out in protest. You can’t live in sin and talk about God – they don’t go together. You have to rid yourself of sin in order to enjoy talking about and with God. For God himself will not tolerate sin. Sin is an immediate barrier to fellowship with him.
Now the emotion of the whole moment was too much for Joseph. “His heart yearned for his brother” and yet it still was not the right time to reveal his identity, so he goes to his bedroom to weep in private (43:30). Once he had regained his composure and washed his face, dinner was served. According to Egyptian custom, Joseph was seated by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians by themselves. And so they sat before Joseph in birth order, all the way from “the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth; and the men looked in astonishment at one another” (43:33). No one wonder they were astonished: “How could he possibly know our ages? This is scary. He knows all about us.”
You can only imagine their further confusion when the food was served and “Benjamin’s serving was five times as much as any of theirs (43:34a). “How come he’s giving our youngest brother five times as much food as us?” they must have thought. “So they drank and were merry with him” (43:34b). Happy days were here again! Or so they thought. But, before the happy days would come, there was ...
The final test (44:1-34). Evidently, Joseph still wasn’t prepared to trust his brothers. So deeply had he been hurt by them before, so untrustworthy had they proven themselves before, so conniving and devious had their lives been, that Joseph had to bend over backwards to determine if they had really changed. Could they be trusted? Were they telling him the truth? Was everything as it seemed on the surface? Or, were they acting this way just because they needed food? So, he administered a final test of their trustworthiness.
As they were leaving for home, Joseph’s steward was instructed “to fill their sacks with food as much as they could carry and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack” (44:1). This is the same test as the last time but with a twist. Joseph’s silver cup was to be put into Benjamin’s sack (44:2)! Again, you can hear the drum beat (dum-de-dum-dum) as something ominous is about to happen.
They set off for home as before but barely had they made it outside the city limits, than Joseph’s steward caught up with them to lower the boom. Specifically, on Joseph’s instructions, when they find Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, they say, “Why have you repaid evil for good? Is this not the one from which my lord drinks, and with which he indeed practices divination? You have done evil in so doing” (44:4-5). Now this does not infer that Joseph actually practiced divination. While divination using liquids in a cup was common in Egypt, it was not practiced by the Israelites. I would argue that this reference to divination is just another part of the “trick” that puts pressure on the brothers. This cup was not just any old drinking cup, but one that is used in divination to discover the will of the gods by how oil and water mixed. The implication is, “So, how do you think you would not be discovered?” This threat is repeated in 44:15.
The irony here is that the brothers were truly innocent. We know it, they knew it, the steward knew it, and Joseph knew it. This was just one big charade, a trick, but with the very genuine, purpose of testing and revealing the brothers’ hearts.
Of course, the brothers denied such a charge. “Far be it from us that your servants should do such a thing”(44:7). “We are honest men,” they argue. “In fact, we brought back the money that was in our sacks the last time (and, by the way, we didn’t have to – but we’re honest men, remember). So, why would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? In fact, we’re so confident, here’s what we’ll do. Whoever is found with the silver cup in his sack shall die. Oh, and we’ll add to that, the rest of us will be your lord’s slaves” (44:8-9).
This is like the TV commercials. You won’t pay $500, $400, or $200 – you’ll only pay $99. But wait, there’s more. If you order within the next 30 seconds, we’ll double the offer. That’s what the brothers were doing: The thief will die. But wait, there’s more. We will be your lord’s slaves.
But Joseph’s steward modified the terms of the deal. After all, he knew what the tricky test was all about and he really didn’t want anyone to die over this. So the final terms are: “He with whom the silver cup is found shall be my slave (not Joseph’s) and the rest of you shall be blameless (44:10). On those terms Joseph’s steward searched the sacks and, lo and behold, he found the cup in Benjamin’s sack (44:11-12). Now, what would they do? How would they react? Would they do the same as they did to Joseph – go wild with anger and kill Benjamin? That’s what the old, unchanged brothers would have done. They had no scruples at all as to how to settle a score.
Well, they go wild alright but with fear and shock, not anger (44:13). Just when they thought they were in the clear, now this. In fact, they were sure that the governor really liked them (for some strange reason), sufficiently so that he had actually entertained them in his mansion! Now they had the food, they had retrieved Simeon from custody, Benjamin is with them and they’re on their way home. Things were finally looking up and now this. Talk about a reversal of fortunes!
But there is no violence, no accusations against Benjamin. Instead, with their shoulders drooping low, they trudge back to the city to face the inevitable music. And they did the only thing they could do: “They fall before Joseph on the ground (44:14). That must have been a pretty sight for Joseph!
Did you know that this was when the first Kodak camera was made? I’m pretty sure that Joseph had commissioned his wise men to invent a camera just for this Kodak moment (although the text doesn’t say so). No, actually, I think this was when the first Panasonic movie camera was used – to catch the brothers coming back into the courtyard of the governor’s mansion, their donkeys in tow, their clothing all torn in their anguish, tears probably coursing down their faces, making their beards look like matted straw. They were indeed a pathetic sight. But to Joseph they were a picture of beauty! To Joseph they were changed men. This must have done his heart good. The test had worked. It had revealed their hearts. They were different men now.
“And Joseph said to them, ‘What deed is this you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination?’” (44:15). Did they not realize that someone in Joseph’s position and with his power could, and almost certainly would, find out who had stolen the cup?
Judah now rises to the occasion (44:16-34). Judah, the one who had led the group in getting rid of Joseph, the one who had finally persuaded Jacob to let Benjamin go with them, the one who had told Jacob he would bear the blame if they didn’t bring Benjamin back, now he is the spokesperson for the group. To Joseph’s accusation, Judah pleads: “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found”(44:16). There was nothing they could say. They couldn’t clear themselves. They were caught red-handed. They were powerless and Joseph was all-powerful. This was a new day. The tables were turned. So powerful was this realization, that Judah confesses the truth: “God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” “God has revealed the sin of our hearts,” he confesses. “Here we are – we have no excuses, no rationalizations, no defense, no counter arguments, no one else to blame. Just do what has to be done. We are now your slaves, all of us, not just Benjamin.”
This was there only option in dealing with this disaster. Judah knew he couldn’t appeal for justice, so he did the only thing he could – he appealed for mercy. This was a clear confession of sin, going all the way back to casting Joseph in the pit. This was the sin that God had now uncovered. Now he realized that this was divine retribution for how they had acted years before.
Then the worst news of all: “The man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father” (44:17). What? Really? We can go? But what about Benjamin? And more particularly, what about our father Jacob? Judah had offered all the brothers to be Joseph’s slaves but no, Joseph only wanted Benjamin? How could they possibly return to their father in peace? They couldn’t. They were all complicit in this together. They must all bear the blame together.
This is undoubtedly what Joseph wanted to hear. He knew that they had treated Benjamin with compassion and mercy in this disaster; now Joseph wanted to know how they would treat their father.
Now, Judah is at his absolute finest (44:18-34). He articulated the most heart-wrenching account of what they had told Joseph before about their aged father and his attachment to his youngest son, Benjamin, and how Joseph had insisted that they bring Benjamin to Egypt, how they had pleaded with Joseph that their father would die if Benjamin left him (44:19-22), but how Joseph had been unmovable in his demand (44:23), and how they had recounted this to their father and their father had reminded them that Rachel (his favorite wife) had born him two sons – the one disappeared (apparently torn apart by a wild beast) and if anything happens to the other son “it will kill me” (44:27-29). So now, Judah pleaded, if they return home without Benjamin, as soon as their father sees that he is missing, he will drop dead on the spot (44:30-31). And furthermore, “your servant (Judah) became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers (44:32-33).
Notice that everything in this marvelous plea is focused on others. Firstly, it focuses on the best interests of Benjamin. Judah not only does not accuse Benjamin of getting them into this mess, but he actually offers to be his substitute! He is fully prepared to carry out his promise to Jacob – he will be the surety for Benjamin. And secondly, it focuses on the best interests of Jacob. If Judah stays and Benjamin goes back, Jacob will live. And his final pleas is this: “I just couldn’t bear to see my father die from this” (44:34).
Now Joseph knew for sure the answers to his doubts. These were trustworthy men of integrity and compassion. And Judah, who had made the deal to sell Joseph to slave traders, now offered to be a slave in the place of Benjamin. Judah, who at one time couldn’t have cared less about his father’s sorrow at losing his son, Joseph, now was willing to become a slave in Egypt in order to protect his father’s feelings and life.
This is genuine repentance. Genuine change. Their sensitive consciences convicted them of their earlier sin that needed to be dealt with now. They freely and openly admitted guilt. They were willing to do whatever it takes to make right the wrong, even being a substitute for Benjamin.
And that’s how you earn and regain trust. Not by trying to make excuses, not by trying to find technical loopholes in the law, not by trying to implicate others. But by simply and honestly confessing the truth and repenting of your sin, changing the way you think, act, and speak. This is the stuff of which trust is made - repentance and forgiveness lead to reconciliation, which, over time, re-establishes trust.
Remember our thesis for this message: “Trust is the foundation of true, full, and lasting reconciliation.”
So, what do you do if you lose trust in someone? The relationship needs to be properly restored, and a relationship is properly restored only when trust is earned and re-established. And trust is re-established when there is confession and repentance by the offender, forgiveness by the offended person, and personal reconciliation between the parties through trust that is earned over time by the offender.
If trust isn’t there, the relationship at best is flimsy. Even though the offender may have repented and you may have extended forgiveness and reconciliation may have taken place (at least at a superficial level), there must also be trust. And, as this part of Joseph’s story shows, trust has to be earned and demonstrated over time. This is true in marital relationships, employment relationships, friendships, and church relationships.
What is trust? To trust someone is to have no doubt in your mind as to that person’s integrity, confidentiality, and loyalty. You may love someone, but you may not fully trust that person. Many relationships are that way. And I would argue that such relationships will never progress to full, lasting, and genuine relationships if they are based solely on love. In addition to love, there must be full and complete trust in order for a relationship to be more than superficial.
When I do pre-marital counselling, I often ask: “Why do you want to marry this person?” And the reply is invariably: “Because I love him / her.” And I say something like: “Is that all?” Marriage relationships must have not only “love” but also “commitment” and “trust”. Love without commitment means that when things get rough, the marriage may fall apart. Love without trust means that the relationship will be strained, plagued with doubt, suspicion, even paranoia: “I wonder where he is now? Why did she say that?” etc.
Today there is a trend toward “open” marriages. Open marriages are where the two spouses say, “We love each other but we may not be able to fulfill each others needs, so we are open to our spouse having relationships with other men / women.” This fundamentally cannot work on a long term basis. If you break trust, you effectively break the relationship until and unless that trust is re-earned and re-established. And sometimes the breach is of such a nature that trust cannot be re-established.
How is trust earned?
1. Trust is earned over time. You can’t rush it.
2. Trust is earned by your attitude. Never give cause for suspicion. Always be truthful – deception kills trust. Always have mutual respect – lack of respect kills trust. Don’t be condemning of the other person’s shortcomings, weaknesses, mistakes, habits, idiosyncrasies.
3. Trust is earned by your actions. Be reliable. Do what you say, keep your promises, make your word your bond. Be supportive. Demonstrate confidence in the other party. Nurture a healing, healthy, safe environment where you can be yourself without fear of reprisal.
4. Trust is earned by your communications. Openness, transparency, for example, about your feelings. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. Keep confidential communications confidential. If you break confidentiality, you break trust.
5. Trust is earned by your beliefs - sharing mutual beliefs and sharing a mutual commitment to the Lord. Herein lies the key to trust.
Now you can see why Joseph followed a long, drawn-out process with his brothers. He was willing to forgive from day one, but he didn’t do so until he saw honest confession and repentance and the evidence that he could trust them again. And the evidence was in their change of attitude, behavior, speech, and their belief in God.