A Bitter Cry of Unbelief
Reformed Free Publishing Association
With heavy hearts, because they had to leave Simeon behind in one of Egypt's prisons, the nine brothers of Joseph mounted their beasts of burden. And yet with a sigh of relief they headed northward for the land of Canaan. How wonderful to be out of prison and away from rough speech!
The relief, however, was soon replaced with increasing anxiety, so that their hearts became heavier each step that they took homeward. For now a new trying situation began to impress itself upon their consciousness. They must face their father and explain to him Simeon's absence, the fact that they found a sack's worth of money in the sack of grain that they had opened, and that they must take Benjamin along, if they are to return and get food again out of Egypt. What troubled them especially was the fact that they had to persuade their father, who now looked upon Benjamin as his most beloved son, to let them take this youngest son along on their next trip.
Now, ordinarily, to find a sum of money brings elation. To get a large discount on the things you buy does not move to tears of sadness. To come home from the grocery store with a large bag of the necessities of life for which the owner refused to let you pay, and said that it was on the house, will not bring frowns and grumblings. More likely your step will be quicker and lighter; and you will want to hurry home and tell others of your "good fortune." But the nine brothers did not look forward to telling this to their father after they opened one of their sacks and found to the last penny the cost of that sack of corn lying on top of the food. They were filled with consternation to find this money, and with stark fear looked at each other in dismay. We read that their hearts failed them. The treatment that they had received in Egypt gave them no assurance that this was a gift of kindness—even though it was—or the deed of a good friend. Going home to get proof that they were true men, they knew of not one man in Egypt that was a friend to them. And what about Simeon being kept in prison? Is it any wonder that, when they did return with Benjamin, one of the first things that they did was to explain that they had found this money and were bringing it back? And is it any wonder that, upon being brought into Joseph's house, they first said among themselves, "Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses"? Note, by the way, how averse these brothers, who sold Joseph as a slave, are to becoming slaves themselves. But they can find only one explanation for the money in their sacks, and that is that it is an attempt to prove that they are spies, and thieves as well.
Imagine then their consternation, and their father's, when arriving home they open all the other eight sacks, and find in each one the money they gave for the contents! What is more, we may believe that each brother recognized the fact that he got exactly the same money—not merely the equivalent of what he bought the corn for—and in the same purse or package in which they brought it! If you will turn to Genesis 42:35, you fill find this, "And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack; and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid." Now this word bundle is elsewhere translated three times as bag, and it is not the same word as sack. There was a bundle or bag of money in each sack. The word bundle or bag means that which is compressed; and it gives the idea of a sum of money that is not loose but in some way wrapped up together. And "every man's bundle" means that the same bundle, bag, or wrapping is there with the exact coins that they had brought to buy the corn. No wonder they were afraid and that their hearts failed them, and said, "What is this that God hath done to us?" There was everything to give circumstantial evidence that they stole the money they brought down to Egypt.
Fear, although it may not leave entirely, does tend to lessen after a period of time during which no evil befalls one. But the fear of the brothers became far more intense when they opened all the other eight sacks upon arriving home. In Genesis 42:28, in connection with opening only one sack, we read that their hearts failed and they were afraid. The word afraid here means troubled. That their hearts failed we would probably explain as skipping a beat. However, the word means to go out or go forth. And the idea more closely then is that their hearts pounded with fear, and seemed almost ready to break out of their chest cavities because of the fierceness of the pounding. But upon, opening all the sacks they are gripped with even greater fear. The word fear, or the statement that they were afraid when they opened the eight sacks, means that they trembled, could not control their limbs. And the word is the same one that is used of fallen Adam when he heard God coming in the cool of the day, and when Moses was afraid "to look upon God" at the burning bush. This is a dreadful, overwhelming fear.
Jacob also was afraid. The sons had already told him of their experiences in Egypt. Now such fear grips him that he cries out, "Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me." Note how Jacob blames it all on his sons, even that Joseph "is not." He knew not the details. He believed Joseph to have been slain by a wild beast; but he harbored in his soul all these years the suspicion that they had something to do with that tragic "death." For he knew the vehement hatred that they had for Joseph.
Surely Jacob was not walking by faith here in this outburst. The smoldering dissatisfaction which he had with these ten sons through the years, the painful loss of Joseph, and now because these sons had told Joseph so much in Egypt that it resulted in Simeon being held as a hostage, and Benjamin being required to be brought to Egypt, as undeniable evidence that they were true men, moved him to express that which was pure unbelief. He cried of all these things being against him, while faith declares that all things work together for good to those that love God, and that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God.
Once again it may be stated that we can pity the man, that we can understand how trying and disappointing all these events must have been for him. But we must not defend him in it. For what he said simply was not true. All this was working for his good; but it will take some time yet before God will make this plain. God's calendar and clock are seldom our calendar and clock. And God's way is the best way because it is the only way. The salvation of these sons of Jacob demanded all this history. They must be brought to conviction and confession of their sins. Joseph must go ahead to spare the lives of his father's house during those seven dreadful years of famine that the covenant line die not out, and the Christ in due time may be born in the line of Jacob and his son Judah.
The trouble with us (and the trouble here with Jacob) is that we look at things instead of looking at God who is behind all that which happens. And we look at the work of one particular thing or event and quickly come to a conclusion, while God has an eternal, unchangeable counsel or plan wherein all things work together, and are not just so many separate works. We must get that truth and hold fast to it, that all things work together for good. Alone they may work us physical harm and be very distasteful and hard to bear. And taken all by themselves and failing to see God behind them working out a good and wonderful plan, we will so often cry out with Jacob that all is against us.
A little experience from everyday life will show us how to judge what God sends us and help us to see that all things work together for good to those that love him. While your wife or mother is baking a cake that calls for many ingredients, one of which is flour, take a tablespoon of that flour and put it in your mouth. It will not taste good to you. It will work no good in your mouth, as far as your taste is concerned. It, even as bitter medicine may cure you of your ailment, will provide your body with nourishment, in spite of its unappetizing taste. But by itself you are not going to enjoy it. It will go against you. Now let your wife or mother, or the baker down the street, mix that flour in the right proportion with the other ingredients, bake the mixed ingredients for the right length of time at the proper temperature and then serve it to you. Together with the other ingredients and the heat, that flour will work together for a delicious cake. The end product is very delightful, even though at any stage of the preparation, and alone, the elements may bring discomfort rather than joy.
And the reason why all the ingredients in our lives, all our experiences and every historical event in the history of this world from creation onward, work together for our good is that God works them all together. He, the all-wise chef, knows just what ingredients are necessary and for how long a period of time we are to be exercised by them. He knows how hot it must get for us. And his measurements are always exact. His mixture of the bitter with the sweet is always in the most complete sense of the word according to his perfect recipe.
No, Jacob, God did not give you something that was against you. All these things occurred at the time that they did take place because there is a great good toward which the God of all mercy was working. Leave out any one of these things which Jacob called against him, and there will be no happy, delightful end. How foolish to go to a bakery and watch a renowned baker make a cake, and then, not knowing what kind of cake he is preparing, begin to criticize the adding of this or that ingredient and question the oven temperature and time of baking.
And yet with God we do that time and time again. We do that even though we do know, for God reveals it in his word, what he is preparing for us. We even know from his own mouth that there will be bitter ingredients and that our light affliction works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Yet we quickly say, "Oh, no, all these things are against us!"
From the Psalms we sing, "Let children thus learn from history's light to hope in our God and walk in his sight, The God of their fathers to fear and obey, And ne'er like their fathers to turn from his way." But one of the biggest mistakes we make when we trace the history of God's people in the Old Testament is to fail to see ourselves in all the sins and weaknesses of the saints and sinners recorded on those pages that cover the day of shadows.
Looking at Jacob here we quickly say, "Oh, Jacob, do not talk that way," and hardly have we spoken these words and we dare to speak of our own "bad luck," ruling God completely out of our lives and denying that this present inconvenience is working together with the rest of God's works upon us and round about us for our everlasting good. Looking at the ten sons of Jacob we want to shout at them, "Tell your father the truth! Do not let him for one more second carry that grief; and go down into Egypt and see if you can find his beloved son and buy his freedom again." And yet are we not just as reluctant to confess our sins? If Asher, Dan, or Judah do it, it is bad. But we had a good reason for doing the same thing. After all this is a different day and age!
How comforting to know that God works all together for our good, and that we do not need to depend upon each other. How wonderful that in God's eternal plan, and because of it, the cross of Christ is a historical fact! What Joseph told his brothers, many years later, is so true of that cross, "Ye meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." For Christ's brethren meant to destroy him, but God meant that cross that we might live forever in the kingdom of his Christ.
This article was written by Rev. Heys in the December 15, 1981 issue of the Standard Bearer.