Déjà Vu All Over Again.

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. – Genesis 44:1-13 ESV

Just when things seemed to be going so well, everything went south for the brothers. After their wonderful meal with the governor, they were sent away with their sacks filled with grain, their brother, Simeon, freed from prison, and Benjamin safely in tow. Their destination was Canaan. But they didn’t get far. Once again, Joseph had instructed that the money they bought to pay for the grain be secretly returned to their sacks. Not only that, he had an expensive goblet placed in the sack of the youngest brother, Benjamin. Then he sent his steward, most likely with an armed party, to catch up to his brothers’ caravan and expose their “treachery.”

This story has an eerie sense of déjà vu about it. Many years earlier, when Jacob was attempting to secretly get away from his uncle, Laban, and return to Canaan, his caravan was overtaken by Laban and his kinsmen. Not only had Jacob snuck away without telling Laban or giving him a chance to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren, someone in his party had stolen Laban’s household gods. Jacob explained that he had failed to tell Laban because he feared he would take his daughters back by force. As far as the stolen idols went, he claimed to know nothing about them, telling Laban:

Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. – Genesis 31:32 ESV

Laban searched and searched, but did not find the idols because Rachel, his daughter had hidden them in her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Eventually, Laban allowed Jacob and his entourage to leave, having been warned by God in a dream not to do any harm to Jacob. Jacob had been fortunate. He had made a rash vow to kill anyone who had stolen the idols. Little had he known that his own wife was the guilty culprit.

Like father, like sons. When Joseph’s steward caught up with them, they too quickly denied the allegations, saying, “Far be it from your servants to do such a thing!” (Genesis 44:7 ESV). Sounding eerily similar to their father, Jacob, one of the sons rashly blurted out, “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants” (Genesis 44:9 ESV). They were offended by the accusation. They knew they were innocent, but they have also known better. This was not the first time they had been wrongly accused of being thieves. But their short-term memory loss seems to have prevented them from remembering how that had all turned out. The money had been in their sacks, just as had been claimed. And now, the claims of stealing proved true again. Not only was the money in their sacks, so was the governor’s prized goblet. The steward gives the goblet special value by saying it is the one the governor uses to practice the art of divination. This does not necessarily mean that Joseph, a worshiper of Yahweh, was guilty of doing divination, it was likely meant to prove to the brothers that the cup had special value and that the governor had secret powers.

Once again, Joseph was giving his brothers a test to determine their loyalty and honesty. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the steward gave Joseph’s pronouncement: “he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent” (Genesis 44:10 ESV). Would they take advantage of the situation, saving their own lives by abandoning their younger brother to a life of slavery. As Joseph knew all too well, it would not have been the first time for them to do such a thing. Would they be willing to leave Benjamin behind, cutting their losses, and returning with their grain and their money in tow?

The brothers were devastated. “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13 ESV). They couldn’t believe this was happening to them again. Was this all the punishment of God for their former treatment of Joseph? Was it some form of divine payback? Were they suffering under God’s curse and doomed to spend the rest of their lives making restitution for their former sins?

How easy it is to see the inexplicable and unpleasant experiences of life as a form of God’s punishment or displeasure. How quickly we assume that difficulties are signs of God’s anger for something we have done or, possibly, should have done. Perhaps God is simply testing us, revealing the true state of our heart and the condition of our faith. Rather than automatically assuming the worst, are we willing to let God reveal to us what He is trying to show us, about ourselves or about Him? Could He be trying to show us our pride and self-sufficiency? Might He be trying to prove to us our weakness and His strength?

Joseph’s brothers didn’t understand their God. They didn’t fully trust Him. Unlike King David, they didn’t realize just how much God loved them and cared for them. He had great plans for them.

O Lord, you have examined my heart  and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! – Psalm 139:1-6 NLT

It was David’s intimate understanding of God’s love that allowed him to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). He knew God loved him and was willing to let God expose anything about him that needed to be changed. What if Joseph’s brothers had looked at their lives with that perspective? What if they had been willing to say, “Lord, what are you trying to tell us? What are you trying to reveal about us?”

Like David, we all need to see the trials of life as opportunities to let God reveal the hidden sins and unseen weaknesses in our life. Trials tend to expose faults. They can bring out the worst and the best in us. Which is why David said: “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT).