Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me …I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! … do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here. Genesis 45.4-5
Joseph’s story culminates in a way that demonstrates the importance of repentance on the part of his brothers and his revelation of himself to them and the great love that motivates him to finally do this. In 43.33-34, he tests his brothers, to find out how they feel about Benjamin. Is his younger brother treated by them the same way he was? Everything he does- the test his brothers must undergo regarding Benjamin (42.15), the seating arrangements (43.33), the huge portion of food (43.34), the personal cup hidden and discovered in Benjamin’s sack (44.12) – it is all done to uncover what the attitude of these brothers is towards the young boy. Joseph seems to be asking in all of this, Are my brothers the same or are they changed? Are they jealous of Benjamin? Will they sentence him to slavery as they did me? So they undergo these tests devised by Joseph to find out what they are like and to finally bring them before him.
When the cup is discovered, Judah speaks for all of them, What can we say to my lord? … What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servant’s guilt. (44.16) The “guilt” includes what they had done to their brother Joseph. Judah understands what they did to Joseph is being brought out in these events as indicated earlier in 42.21 – They said to one 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 is why this distress has come upon us. Judah now casts himself upon the mercy of one he does not even really know yet- …please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in the place of the boy (44.33). Joseph’s identity is not revealed to his brothers, he is not known by them until he is certain about the state of their hearts toward Benjamin. Finally, he invites them, Come close to me!
What a marvelous invitation. Our own experience of God’s revelation of himself to us not only begins but deepens with the realization that we are guilty beyond any remedy we have in ourselves. What is God showing me about myself that is unpleasant and ugly and displeasing to him? How can I deal with it without becoming depressed and despairing? Like Joseph’s brothers I need to cast myself on the mercy of the One I am only beginning to know. Repentance is a turning, a turning away from sin and a turning towards God and his grace. Perhaps, a deepening experience of Christ awaits me. Acts 2.21 promises that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are to call upon on Christ to save us from the penalty of sin. I need to keep on doing this! Faith and repentance are both gifts from God. But faith describes a gift to rest upon God, whereas repentance describes being turned more fully toward God. Whenever we uncover the truth about ourselves we can discover more and more how much we can trust in Christ! 1 John 1.8-9 tells us that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Grace, John Newton says in his great hymn, taught my heart to fear, and grace, my fears, relieved. Grace teaches us that we are guilty but that our “Joseph” desires to forgive us! And such a revelation should chase away the self-loathing I feel in the face of my sin, and bring a new experience of peace and joy. All is well! A greater-than-Joseph has invited me to come closer, and put away the distress and anger in my heart that has smothered the flames of his unfailing love.