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The Moment of Truth

March 4, 2018 Speaker: David Gough Series: The Life of Joseph: Lessons in Sovereignty

Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 45:1–45:28

“THE MOMENT OF TRUTH”

Genesis 45:1-28

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself know to his brothers.  2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.  10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.  11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’  12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother, Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you.  13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.”  14 The he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.  15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants.  17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan,  18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’  19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.  20 Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.”

21 The sons of Israel did so; and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey.  22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes.  23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provisions for his father on the journey.  24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob.  26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.  27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.  28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Introduction

A “moment of truth” is defined as “that time when one is faced with an immediate situation or circumstance that will have important consequences for the future.”  Each of us have, at one time or another, come face-to-face with our own personal “moments of truth.”

Three Broward County sheriff’s deputies experienced just such a “moment of truth” a couple of weeks ago when they reportedly delayed several minutes before entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where an active shooting was in progress.  And while their side of the story has yet to be fully told, it would appear that had they gone in and engaged the shooter immediately upon arriving on the scene, at least some of the seventeen lives that were taken that day could have been spared.  It was truly a “moment of truth.”

Some people seem to live under the “spotlight” or the “shadow” of a single defining “moment.”  It is as if “accidental fate” unexplainably overtakes them at a point in time, and the course of their lives is suddenly and forever changed.  And while it may seem that way, rarely do things happen in a manner as easy to explain as that.  There are always precipitating factors which, when viewed in retrospect, are shown to have contributed to those defining “moments.”  While it is true that life sometimes does take us by surprise and catch us “off guard,” more often than not the “moment of truth” is actually the end product of any number of other unrecognized causes.

To state a theological truth in a practical way, you and I are not merely pawns on the chessboard of life being moved about by unseen forces for no apparent purpose.  The Bible gives us two foundational truths that argue against such a premise.  In the first place, it tells us that “God is good” (cf. Psalm 136:1), and secondly, it teaches that this “good God” is sovereign over all things (cf. Proverbs 16:4).  In other words, God is always in control, and He always does what is right.  Apart from believing these two essential truths, life becomes for us little more than a series of random circumstances or a “game of chance.”

Over the past several Sundays, we have been tracing the steps of Joseph through the latter chapters of Genesis.  If our observations have been correct, then we have seen that nothing that has happened in this man’s life has been by “chance.”  Though his course has been one of unexpected twists and turns, each bend in the road has been designed by the providences of God.

This morning we arrive at what can only be described as a “moment of truth” in the lives of Joseph and his family.  You will recall that in Joseph’s most recent encounter with his brothers—who had yet to recognize his true identity—he had put them through “the ultimate test.”  Were they willing to forsake and abandon one of their own—just as they had done with him two decades earlier—or had their character changed?  So far they had passed every recent test given them, but before Joseph would reveal and entrust himself to his brothers he had to know: would they “sell out” Benjamin to save their own skin?

It was Judah who stepped forward and pled for Benjamin’s life to be spared.  Serving not merely as intercessor, he had asked that he become his youngest brother’s substitute.  In Genesis 43:33 he had said, “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.”  Even before that, Judah had “pledged” to his father that he personally would guarantee Benjamin’s safety (cf. Genesis 43:8-10).  Now that “pledge” had come due.  The “moment of truth” had arrived.

Judah’s impassioned monologue at the end of chapter 44 has set up this scene before us.  With tension as thick as a dense morning fog hanging in the air, we arrive at...

The revealing of Joseph (Genesis 45:1-8).

Genesis 45:1: “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him.”  Requesting to be left alone with his brothers, he shared his identity with them.  All of the foregoing tests that he subjected them to had led to this “moment of truth.”  With tears filling his eyes and streaming down his face, he said the words that he had longed to say from his initial recognition of them during their first visit to Egypt: “I am Joseph!”

Both the revelation of his identity and his inquiry about their father’s well-being were met with stunned silence.  The text says that “His brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.”  That word (“bahal”) means to be “filled with sudden alarm and terror.”  They must have thought that they were “seeing a ghost.”

Joseph had waited for this moment, hoping against hope that it would one day come to pass.  At first, he had“treated them as strangers and spoke(n) roughly to them” (cf. Genesis 42:7), but now he tenderly urged them, “Come near to me, please.”  As they approached him, he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt.”  And then he added words that they could have never imagined hearing, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Did you catch that?  “You sold me,” but “God sent me.”  What an amazing thought!  Joseph had been “sold” to be a slave, but God had “sent” him to be a savior.  God’s sovereignty and blessing can be found in what seem to be the most heinous crimes and most disastrous circumstances.  That does not mean that He approves of evil, and neither does it mean that He enjoys our suffering.  But it does mean that He can bring good out of evil.  He doesn’t suppress our choice, but none of our choices—however bad—can interfere with His plan.  Joseph wanted his brothers to know that God had “overruled” their action and their sin had become the means of their preservation and the preservation of many others.

When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered the world He had made, He too had been unrecognized (cf. John 1:11).  In fact, He too was rejected and sold as a slave (cf. Matthew 27:3).  How blind are eyes that will not see until God is His sovereignty opens them.

Recalling Pharaoh’s dreams, the interpretation of which had vaulted him to his present position, Joseph proceeds to explain in verses 6 through 8,

“And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

By referring to himself as “a father to Pharaoh,” Joseph was not using the term in a paternal way.  Metaphorically, it sometimes refers to a person—whether related in a family-sense or not—upon whom one depends or receives counsel.  Joseph had been commissioned to that role in light of his correct interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.

The two words, “remnant” and “survivors,” are combined elsewhere in the Old Testament in emphasizing God’s protective care of His own (cf. 2 Kings 19:31, Isaiah 37:32).  They suggest that by narrowly escaping destruction, there is the hope for—if not the promise of—a glorious future.

There was no single event which established the nation of Israel, but if there was one defining “moment,” this was it.  This would prove to be the founding of the unique people to whom would be given the Word of God and through whom would come the Son of God.  Had this scene not taken place as it had—and we can only speculate, because it actually did occur—then Jacob’s sons would likely have scattered and spread throughout the other peoples of the Middle East.  But, lest we forget, God was in control.  

From a human perspective, Joseph held all the cards in his hand.  His ability and willingness to forgive his brothers is a theme that permeates the unfolding events of this chapter...and the rest of the Book of Genesis, for that matter.  In that regard this was for him—as well as for his brothers—the “moment of truth.”

Let’s continue with Joseph’s excited—and likely well-rehearsed—revelation to his brothers.  In verses 9 through 20, we find...

The report for the family (Genesis 45:9-20).    

Following Joseph’s revelation, the brothers are instructed to “Hurry”...“make haste” to return to Canaan and give word to his father, Jacob, that he is alive and well and prospering in Egypt.  Without delay the entire family was to gather their children and grandchildren, their flocks and herds, and relocate to “the land of Goshen,” a delta region on the east of the Nile River.  There they would be near to Joseph, and he would provide for them.  As the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams had foretold, there yet awaited five more years of famine...and the language suggests that conditions were to become far more severe.

We cannot help but notice from verses 12 through 14 that the Joseph’s emphasis remains upon his brother Benjamin and his father, but not exclusively so.  As a very moving scene draws to a close, we read in verse 15 that Joseph “kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.”  Here for the first time, he “lowered his guard” and became emotionally vulnerable in their presence.  As he spoke, they had remained silent.  Now with all the “barriers” having been removed, “his brothers talked with him.”  The writer leaves us wondering what might have been said in those moments, and how long the tearful interchange may have continued.  Without question, it marked the beginning of putting the parts of a badly broken family back together again.

Word that Joseph had been reunited with his brothers soon reached Pharaoh’s house.  We can only surmise how much of Joseph’s family background Pharaoh may have been aware of in advance.  To whatever degree it was, we are told that he and his servants were “pleased” in that joyful shared in the joy of this moment.  

So much so that Pharaoh instructed his loyal and adopted vizier, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’”  In addition, Joseph was to tell them to “take wagons from the land of Egypt for (their) little ones...and...wives, and bring (their) father and come.”  What they couldn’t bring with them, they were to leave behind...“the best of all the land of Egypt” would be theirs.

Only the God who made the world out of nothing (cf. Genesis 1:1), created man from the dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7), and gives life to dead bones (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14) is able to repair and restore relationships as fractured as those of this family.  Twenty years of separation do not, by themselves, heal.  And human nature being what it is, there would doubtless remain scars of the damage both inflicted and received.  

If there are broken relationships and harbored resentment between you and someone else this morning, please know that a cure awaits any and all who are willing to humble themselves before God and others.  It matters not whether you are the offended one or the offender, the Scriptures exhort us to strive to “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

Though it would take time, through it all the Lord was bringing about the fulfillment of His plan for His people.  We may have forgotten, given the drama being played out in these chapters, that He had told Abram centuries earlier that his descendants would be “sojourners in a land that is not theirs” (Genesis 17:13).  This family now stood at the cusp of fulfilling that word.

Within a matter of days, the brothers would have begun...

The return to Canaan (Genesis 46:21-24).

With wagons loaded with provisions, off they went.  Please observe that they are referred to here as “the sons of Israel,” a designation that will mark them off as the distinct people of God.

The bounty they would carry back to Canaan is described in verses 21 through 24 and reveals the extent of the forgiveness and the full restoration of love Joseph had bestowed upon his brothers.  True forgiveness does not deny wrongdoing, but it does mean being able to look the offender in the eye, acknowledge the offense, and forgive them anyway.  Clearly Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers extended beyond the words he spoke that day to the deeds that followed.

Placed within the context of this chapter and the entire story that we have covered so far, I cannot help but be reminded of the debt that Jesus paid in forgiving us our sins.  Paul captured the theological nuance of that truth when he wrote, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses...God made alive together with him, having forgiven all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).  And it was David who expressed it poetically, writing, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

Interestingly, Benjamin was once again given five times as much as his brothers received (cf. Genesis 43:34).  This was clearly a gesture of honor on the part of Joseph, but to presume that it was part of the ongoing “testing” of the brothers would seem to be an overstretch.  We cannot be certain why “five times” the amount, so we are probably better off not hazarding a guess.

There is, however, an interesting comment that Joseph makes to his brothers as they set out on their journey.  In verse 24 we read, “...as they departed, he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel on the way.’”  This was not merely a “parting shot,” as some have suggested.  Joseph is well aware of human nature...that of his brothers, as well as yours and mine.  Sanctification is progressive for us all, no matter how powerfully we have been touched by the grace of God.  Becoming “Christ-like” is a life-long process.

Can one actually imagine that the brothers would not have discussed the events that had just transpired as they traveled back to Canaan?   Away from Joseph for the first time since he had revealed his identity to them, there would likely have been a measure of blame-shifting and finger-pointing.  But this was no time for personal accusations and recriminations.  “Forget the guilt of the past,” Joseph seemed to say.  “Get Dad and your families, and hurry back this way.”

One of the things the brothers would have no doubt discussed was how to break the news to Jacob that Joseph was still alive.  While that word would have been exceedingly good, it would also have to be presented with care, given their father’s advanced years.  What’s more, how would explain their having deceived him for the past twenty years?

Beginning with verse 25, we learn...

The reaction of Jacob (Genesis 46:25-28).

Their announcement is summarized in two brief phrases: “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.”  Obviously, there was more that would have been said than that.  But this is what their father heard.  And when he did, the text says that “his heart became numb.”  In a word, he was stunned.  His initial reaction was one of disbelief.  How we wish we were able to comprehend what must have been going on in the old man’s mind at that moment.  All that we read is that “he did not believe them.”

That single comment was an anything-but-favorable testimony to their character.  Given their track record, they had never earned the trust of their father.  Why should he believe them now?

But when they repeated the words that Joseph had spoken and showed him the wagons filled with the provisions that they had brought from Egypt, we are told that Jacob’s “spirit...revived.”  We are reminded of the words of Isaiah, who when looking forward to the coming Savior, said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (cf. Isaiah 52:7).  Hearing that his beloved son was alive was like balm to Jacob’s dead heart.  For him it was like a “new lease on life,” a resurrection of sorts, something akin to being “born again.”

We see this parallel becoming clear in verse 28: “And Israel said, ‘It is enough; Joseph my son is alive. I will go and see him before I die.”  This paragraph began with Jacob’s “numbed heart,” and it ends with Israel’s “revived spirit.”  Same man...two widely different conditions.  What made the difference?  Hearing and believing “good news.”

Conclusion

The New Testament word for “good news” is, of course, “Gospel.”  And the “Gospel” is that Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, has paid for the sins of everyone who will hear, believe, and entrust themselves to Him.  Believing the “good news” that his son was alive was but a preview of the even better news that you and I can receive the forgiveness of sins and life forevermore because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is alive.  

As we move into chapter 46 next week, Jacob’s “wildest dreams” are soon to be fulfilled in a blessed reunion with the son he thought was dead.  God specializes in giving life to those who are without it.  The Bible says that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).  Do you believe this “good news”?  Have you responded to His offer of the “Gospel”?

In reflecting upon the story of Joseph’s life, it is utterly amazing how the free will of man and the sovereignty of God meet in practical harmony.  God’s purposes are ultimately fulfilled through and in spite of human deeds, including whether or not those deeds are morally right.  It is in knowing God to be sovereign, knowing that he is in control of all of history—including our destiny—that makes all the difference in how we see Him.

There are two aspects to every event in our lives.  On the one hand there is human mishandling or what some have called “the blind working of nature,” and on the other there is the perfect will of God.  The way to true freedom from the tyranny of life’s circumstances is to see the will of God behind the events—all the events—of our lives.  

God has a good purpose for our lives.  It takes faith to believe that.  Joseph seems to have believed it for years and it had sustained him during those times when there was no obvious indication that such a view was true.  Believing in the providence of God makes us able to rise above the circumstances before us rather than fall victim to them.  

It was Joseph’s theology applied to his own circumstances that made it possible for him to forgive his brothers.  And it was his still-maturing acceptance of the sovereignty of God that enabled him to forgive them.  As we prepare to approach the Lord’s Table, I’d like you to hear these words from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones with regard to forgiveness:

...the proof that you and I are forgiven is that we forgive others. If we think our sins are forgiven by God and we refuse to forgive somebody else, we are making a mistake; we have never been forgiven. The man who knows he has been forgiven, only in and through the shed blood of Christ, is a man who must forgive others. He cannot help himself. If we really know Christ as our Savior our hearts are broken and cannot be hard, and we cannot refuse forgiveness. If you are refusing forgiveness to anybody I suggest that you have never been forgiven.

Forgiveness is not a virtue we acquire, but a gift that we receive.  It is utterly impossible to forgive apart from the sovereign grace of God.  Indeed, it cost the lifeblood of the Son of God to provide our forgiveness and to grant us the grace to forgive one another.

Forgiveness is central to the Lord’s Supper.  If you have embraced the gift of forgiveness that Christ offers to repentant sinners, and you have made a public declaration of your faith in Him through baptism, then you are invited to receive the elements with us this morning.  In addition, based upon what we have heard today, if there is someone with whom you are harboring an unforgiving spirit then I implore you to ask for forgiveness before eating the bread and drinking the cup, and then as soon as possible go to that person and—as far as is within your power—ask for forgiveness and be willing to forgive.

Let us bow in silence for these next few moments and reflect upon these things, and then we will serve you.

Pastoral prayer

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

We praise You this morning, Father, that the truth of those words—first spoken centuries ago—remains true today.  You are our strength and our shield, our protector, our helper and defender in times of weakness and need.  Thank You for loving us, long before we first heard Your name or knew anything about You.  You are a great God and worthy of all our praise.

We come to worship You today through the Spirit of holiness, made know to us through the incarnation, sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is because of the foundation that He has laid that we are able to approach Your throne this morning.

Thank You, gracious Father, for protecting us through the wind storm that raged through our area yesterday.  Even as our lights flickered and went out, even as trees around us fell and created havoc, we stood silently in wonder at the invisible power on display.  We were forced to admit yet again that there are many things in life that are beyond our control...and that it is You who controls the forces of nature and chooses to unleash them at Your good pleasure.  Still, we pray for those who have been most affected by yesterday’s weather—especially for those who were injured or suffered loss of property.  Be gracious, O Lord, to bring recovery and restoration to those in need...and reveal to us, Your people, how we can best serve one another.  During these days of “clean up” and “repair,” keep us mindful of Your power and make us thankful that the full display of Your wrath has been thus far withheld.

We thank you for the answers to prayer this past week, namely the manner in which You have met the physical needs of Blanche Thomas, Sarah Samuels, and Verna Blake.  We rejoice that we are able to share these thanksgivings with one another as we acknowledge the care and compassion of our great God and His personal presence in the lives of His people.  Keep us mindful that we are a family—a family called together by the Spirit of the living God—and that when one suffers, we all suffer...and when one rejoices, we all rejoice.  May the love that You have shed abroad in our hearts be spread freely among us so that all may know that we are Your disciples.

We are grateful for this church family, and pray that we—though we differ in many ways—are one in Jesus Christ.  Keep us united, Lord, so that as we speak of our church to others during the week, we may be winsome and be used to draw some to the hearing of Your Word.  You have called us to be Your witnesses, and that is something we cannot help but be...so cause that the image of Christ we portray to be accurate and clear, and thus be pleased to draw many to Yourself.

We are confident, Father, that You know the plans that You have for this church.  Therefore, as we anticipate the future, we do so with the assurance that You who have begun a good work among us will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for those who faithfully support this ministry in many and various ways.  Even now we believe that You are raising up and equipping those who will soon be placed in positions of leadership.  We pray for the two who will be attending the Weekender later this week at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  Feed them well and grant them discerning wisdom to bring back to this fellowship the things they have seen and heard.  Build Your church, we pray, and cause the light of the Gospel to penetrate the darkness and brokenness around us.

As we turn to the nations this morning, we pray for the people of Bahrain.  On this small Middle Eastern island dominated by Islam, we give thanks for the church that exists in that land.  Though evangelism is difficult, the Gospel is making inroads there.  We pray that unity among the believers from the different churches will bring an upsurge in meaningful conversions.  May the residents of this land, so wealthy in the things of this world, find true riches in Jesus Christ.  Thank You that, even now, You have chosen a people from this land to share in Your glory forever.  It is for these brothers and sisters, whom we may never meet until we are with them in Glory, that we pray today.

As we prepare to open Your Word, we ask that our eyes be opened to a greater understanding of Your sovereignty and providential ways.  Remind us afresh that everything that “neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is in that name that we pray this morning.  Amen.

More in The Life of Joseph: Lessons in Sovereignty

April 8, 2018

Recognizing Divine Sovereignty

April 1, 2018

The Reading of the Will

March 25, 2018

Blessing Future Generations

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