It Really Isn't All About Me

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Sometimes you just have to let things go and move forward. Joseph’s older brothers arrive in Egypt (Genesis 42:3). Famine has spread to Canaan and there is nothing left to do but to leave home turf and try to buy food elsewhere. The brothers are basically unchanged in appearance, older to be sure, and perhaps a lot wiser as well. Joseph has radically changed, taking on the appearance of an Egyptian. So when the brothers are presented to him, they do not recognize him. Of course, neither did they expect to ever see him again.

As Joseph eavesdrops on the conversation among the brothers, he is aware that the jealous siblings who sold him into slavery are not the same men that he once knew. But he determines to test them to be sure. When they arrive back in Canaan they are one brother short (42:24). Simeon is captive in Egypt as surety for the return of the others with their young brother, Benjamin. They also have all the money they took with them to pray for the grain (42:28). They look upon this, not as a gesture of generosity, but as a means of entrapment. Interestingly, they also know God has a whole lot to do with all this!

But what impresses me is that even though Israel hasn’t changed—he is still playing favourites among his sons (42:36)—the other brothers seem to have left behind their jealousy and their need for revenge. They have acknowledged their guilt: “They said one to another, ‘Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us...Now we must give an accounting for his blood’” (42:21, 22).

The older brothers have lived for years with their father’s pain. And though they have never apparently confessed to him what they did, they have lived with the guilt that their actions generated. Their father has not changed—he still prefers Rachel’s sons to Leah’s. But the boys have moved on. They have accepted what they could not change and have become more compassionate men for it. Now we find men who are willing to share their father’s pain at his loss and also willing to make sacrifices to ease that pain. Reuben even offers to give his own sons up if anything should happen to Benjamin (42:37). Whatever we may think about that offer, we have to believe that he made it in good faith as a man who had learned just how terrible the consequences of ones’ sins are for himself and for others.

It’s a lesson that we often learn too late. We don’t always think of where one sin might lead us or what effect that one sin might have on someone we never meant to hurt in the first place. If this story had ended differently, could it have been that Reuben’s two sons, innocent of anything to do with their father’s sins, would have lost their lives because of that sin?

My decisions, and yours, have an impact far beyond what we can calculate as we are making them. When those decisions are innocuous, or inoffensive, it’s not a big deal. However, when we are faced with the temptation to sin, the story changes. It’s one thing to accept the consequences upon ourselves for the sinful decisions we make. It’s quite another to condemn others to suffering those consequences even though they had nothing to do with the decision we made.

Think twice and then think again. It's really isn't all about us.

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