When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there. – Genesis 43:16-25 ESV
Jacob had sent his sons back to Egypt, but he had not been in an overly enthusiastic mood. “And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Genesis 43:14 ESV). He did not have high hopes that all of this was going to turn out well. After all, his son, Simeon, was being held as ransom in an Egyptian prison by the governor. This powerful man had accused Jacob’s sons of being spies and demanded they prove their innocence by returning with their youngest brother as proof of their story. On top of that, when they left with their bags full of grain, they discovered that the money they had given as payment had been returned to them. Now they could be accused of stealing. So Jacob was understandably pessimistic when it came to the eventual outcome of these events.
But when the brothers returned to Egypt, things did not go quite like they had feared. It is likely that, on their long journey, they had found plenty of time to conjure up all kinds of unpleasant scenarios concerning what was going to happen to them when they arrived in Egypt. Their minds most likely reeled and raced as they thought about their fates and the possible reactions they would get from the governor. Would he accept their younger brother, Benjamin, as proof of their innocence? Would he believe them when they said they knew nothing about the money in their sacks? Would their brother, Simeon, still be alive? And if he was, would they all soon be joining him in prison? The unknown can cause a great deal of anxiety and lead to fear. Not knowing what is going to happen in a given circumstance can leave us drawing wrong conclusions and developing our own means of escape or rescue. The brothers had come expecting the worst and prepared to attempt to buy their way out of trouble. Jacob had sent them with gifts for the governor, telling them, “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.” (Genesis 43:11-12 NLT).
When they arrived in Egypt, they went straight to see the governor, but he instructed that they be taken to his home. The brothers did not see this as a good sign. They concluded, “We are being brought in because of the money that was returned in our sacks last time. He wants to capture us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys!” (Genesis 43:18 NLT). They feared for their lives and they begged the governor’s steward for mercy, explaining to him the truth about all that had happened. They had brought back their younger brother just as the governor had commanded. They had returned with the money. They were innocent. But the steward gave them some shocking, but also comforting news. “‘Everything is fine,’ the man in charge of Joseph’s household told them. ‘Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money’” (Genesis 43:23 NLT). In other words, the money they had originally brought to pay for grain was not the money they had found in their sacks. That money had another explanation: God. The brothers had automatically assumed the worst. But unbeknownst to them, Joseph had placed the money in their bags as a gift to them, their father and families. And ultimately, that gift was from God. because He was the one who prompted Joseph to give it.
This entire series of events would prove to be a gift from God. Even the sale of their brother into slavery would reveal itself to have been a providential gift from the hand of God Almighty. This is not to say that God caused the brothers to sin by forcing them to sell Joseph to the Midianites. James reminds us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). The brothers made the decision to sell Joseph on their own. But God redeemed their sinful choice by using it to accomplish His divine will. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NIV). We can choose to ignore or disobey the revealed will of God, but we cannot thwart the preordained plans of God. Think of the high priest and the religious leaders who planned, schemed and orchestrated the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. They rejected Him as their Messiah and, instead, did everything in their power to assure that He was eliminated as a threat to their power and influence. And yet, in his sermon after Pentecost, Peter would tell these very same men:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:22-24, 36 ESV
Joseph’s sale into slavery, his elevation to the governor’s post, the seven years of famine, the brothers’ original trip to Egypt, the accusation of spying, the imprisonment of Simeon, the demand to return with their brother, the money in the sacks – it had all been a gift from God. The problem is that we can’t always recognize God’s gifts for what they are. We misinterpret and misunderstand them. We judge them based on our limited perspective. Famine is devastating, and no possible good can come from it. False accusations are damaging, so how can anything worthwhile result from them? The thought of imprisonment is deplorable. How could anything redeeming result from something so demeaning? And yet, the gifts of God often come in confusing forms. His blessings are sometimes cloaked and obscured by what appear to be curses. David spent years running from King Saul. But it was those years in the wilderness, learning to trust God, that made him the king God had chosen him to be. Paul spent years in prison, but it was from those confines that he penned the majority of his letters which make up the New Testament. Jesus was falsely accused and tried as a common criminal. He was hung on a Roman cross and executed. And yet it is because of His death that we have been given access to eternal life.