Embracing the Tests of Life
For example, as I arrive at Genesis 43 and 44, I have to hook on to something that happened in Genesis 42—something I wish I knew more about.
The “boys,” Israel’s sons, return to Canaan after their first foray into Egypt to buy food. The Pharaoh’s right-hand man, Joseph (unrecognized by his brothers) has insisted that when they next return they are to bring their younger brother back with them. He has taken Simeon as hostage against their return.
When Israel is told about the deal he is adamant that Benjamin will not go to Egypt with his brothers. Reuben, the oldest, steps in to guarantee that he will bring back the boy (42:37). He says that Israel may kill his two sons if he doesn’t do as he has promised. Nice! He doesn’t offer his own life but those of his sons, and Israel’s grandsons. Did Israel see through the offer and assess it for what it was worth? Because when the time comes to return to Egypt, it is Judah’s offer, not Reuben’s, that Israel accepts.
“Then Judah said to his Israel his father, ‘Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I MYSELF will guarantee his safety; you can hold ME personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life” (43:8-10, emphasis mine).
It is Judah, having learned responsibility (perhaps the Tamar lesson of Genesis 38 had rubbed off), who Israel trusts, sort of, (43:13, 14) with Benjamin’s life.
When the brothers arrive in Egypt and present themselves before Joseph, they are reunited with Simeon. Boy, would I like to know how Simeon was treated by Joseph during his sojourn in Egypt! I wonder what stories he had to tell?
Joseph arranges a situation that brings his brothers back to his court under suspicion of being thieves (44:1-15).
THIS IS A TEST!
He tells the others to go home, but he will keep Benjamin because supposedly it was Benjamin who committed the crime. Would the brothers desert their youngest brother as they had once deserted Joseph?
Here is Judah’s response: “Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’ Now then, please let your servant remain here as my Lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (44:32-34).
As far as Judah knew at this point there was no fixing what he and his brothers thought they had done to Joseph. But Judah was not going to repeat that same evil. This was a man who had learned the lesson.
When we were in school our teachers tested us frequently to find out what, if anything, we had learned. Tests also showed us where the “shoring up” of our weak spots needed to happen. God is the Master Teacher. The tests He sends our way—difficult as they might be—come with the same purpose in mind. We never know what we have learned unless we are tested. We can’t identify our weaknesses, and where we might need help, if something doesn’t come along to test us.
At every step of Joseph’s story, and that of his brothers, testing is taking place. What will the characters in the story do? How will they respond? Have they learned the lesson? Is there some reinforcement needed in a particular area?
I never was particularly fond of tests. I still don’t like them much. But all of us need to understand that they are necessary in the process of spiritual maturity. James writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Paul comments, as one who understood the benefits of suffering, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Hebrews 12:5-11 reminds us that the father who loves, disciplines his children: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for this who have been trained by it.”
In the story of Joseph and his brothers, God works to teach life lessons—hard lessons—in order to produce people who will faithfully reveal Him to the pagan world around them—sons who will model their spiritual Father. This He also does for us. Therefore the writer to the Hebrews concludes this passage with the equivalent of the more modern adage of “pull up your socks” by saying: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (12:12, 13).
Embrace the test so that you, and others, will be blessed.