In seventh grade, I told my mom that I didn’t think my dad loved me. His offense? He wouldn’t let me stay out past ten o’clock. I remember this moment because of the way my mom rose up with a fury like Galadriel’s when Frodo offered her the ring, which clearly let me know I’d crossed a line. I didn’t know how hard my dad worked, or how much he sacrificed for me. I couldn’t see my sin—not with any clarity, anyway.
Life has a way of bringing clarity. Now that I have an adult relationship with my father, and now that I have children of my own, I understand better the depth of my father’s love. I needed an awakening. Today’s passage reads like an awakening to me.
Joseph set his brothers up. There’s no other way to say it. He set them up. He hid his gold cup in young Benjamin’s saddlebag, and while his brothers were on their way home, he sent soldiers to chase them down and conduct a search of their belongings, knowing it would rattle them.
Why did Joseph do this? We’re not given any one reason, but when we read how the story unfolds, we see that his plan woke something up in them. When Joseph told his brothers he was going to make Benjamin his slave, they pleaded for Benjamin’s return—not for Benjamin’s sake but for their father’s. They told Joseph that their father loved the boy, and that he’d already lost his other favored son. Jacob told them that the other son this wife bore to him (Joseph himself) left and was probably torn apart by beasts. If he lost Benjamin, too, Jacob said, it would be the final beat of his grief-stricken heart (Genesis 44:29).
As the brothers pleaded for Benjamin’s return, they wept because of their father’s sorrow. This display of love for Jacob broke Joseph’s heart because it was a love he shared. This was when he revealed his true identity. And when the brothers recognized Joseph, they trembled, possibly because young men don’t often see the weight of their sins until they’re older. But now they could see the mess they made of their family, and they better understood what it cost.
Joseph tells them to go bring their father. He wants them near. And isn’t it just like God to stir us awake to sins we didn’t have eyes to see when we were younger? But it’s also like God to tell us to draw near to Him while the restoration process takes place, which sometimes takes years.
God does not abandon us to our own spiritual poverty; He draws us to Himself. But in that process, He often mercifully decides to show us the depths of our need that we could not see when we were younger. When He does this, it is not because He is ruining us—it is because He is saving us.
Written by Russ Ramsey