26 July 2016

What we can learn from the story of Joseph

Part of a sermon by delivered August 20, 1893, by J. W. McGarvey. Originally published by the Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, in McGarvey’s Sermons. 

"You go, as Joseph did, but you fail to find them. While you search you meet a stranger who tells you they are gone to Dothan, fourteen or fifteen miles farther away. With this news Joseph continued his journey, and how his heart leaped at last to see his brothers again! How glad a welcome he expected from them and inquiries about home, and father, and all. But when he came up, he saw a scowl upon every face. Instead of welcoming, they seized him, and with rough hands stripped the coat from his back, dragged him to the mouth of a dry cistern, and let him down in it. “Now we will see what will become of his dreams.”

"How did the boy then feel? I have thought that perhaps he said to himself, “My brothers are only trying to scare me. They are just playing a cruel joke on me, and don’t mean to leave me here to perish.” But perhaps he had begun to think they were in earnest, when he heard footsteps above, and voices. He sees one of their faces looking down, and a rope let down to draw him up, and he thinks the cruel joke is over. But when he is drawn up and sees those strangers there, and hears words about the sale of the boy, and his hands are tied behind him, and he is delivered into their hands, and they start off with him, what would you have thought or felt then? If the thought had come into his mind that it was another joke, he might have watched as the merchants passed down the road, on every rising piece of ground he might have looked back to see if his brothers were coming to buy him back again, and to get through with this terrible joke; but when the whole day’s journey was passed, and they went into camp at night, and the same the next day, no brothers have overtaken him, what must have been his feelings? When he thought, “I am a slave, and I am being carried away into a foreign land to spend the rest of my life as a slave, never to see father and home again,” who can imagine his feelings? So he was brought down into Egypt and sold.

"But it seems to me that Joseph must have had one thought to bear him up, at least for a time. “My father loves me. He loves me more than he does all my brothers. He is a rich man. When he hears that I have been sold into Egypt, he will send one hundred men, if need be, to hunt me up; he will load them with money to buy me back. I trust in my father for deliverance yet. But he is sold into the house of Pharaoh, and years pass by. He is cruelly cast into prison, and years pass by, until thirteen long years of darkness and gloom and sorrow and pain have gone, and he has never heard of his father sending for him. He could have done it. It would have been easy to do, And now, how does he feel toward his brothers and toward his father? Would you have wanted to see those brothers again? And when he found his father had never sent for him, knowing, perhaps, how penurious and avaricious his father had been in his younger days, may he not have said, “The old avaricious spirit of my father has come back on him in his declining years, and he loves his money more than he loves his boy?” And when that feeling took possession of him, did he want to see his father anymore? Or any of them? Could he bear the thought of ever seeing those brothers again? And could he at last bear the thought of seeing that father who had allowed him to perish, as it were, without stretching out a hand to help him? The way he did feel is seen in one little circumstance. When he was married and his first-born son was placed before him, he named him Manasseh, “forgetfulness,” “Because,” he says, “God has enabled me to forget my father’s house.” The remembrance of home and brothers and father had been a source of constant pain to him; he never could think of them without agony of heart; but now, “Thank God, I have forgotten them.” Oh, brethren, what a terrible experience a boy must have before he feels a sense of relief and gladness that he has been enabled to forget all about his father and his brothers in his early home! That is the way Joseph felt when Manasseh was born. And would not you have felt so, too?

"Everything was going on more pleasantly than he thought it ever could, with him—riches, honor, wife, children: everything that could delight the heart of a wise and good man—when suddenly, one day his steward comes in and tells him that there are ten foreigners who desire to buy some grain. He had a rule that all foreigners must be brought before him before they were allowed to buy grain. Bring them in. They were brought in, and behold, there are his brothers! There are his brothers! And as they approach, they bow down before him. Of course, they could not recognize him, dressed in the Egyptian style—governor of Egypt. Even if he had looked like Joseph, it would only have been a strange thing with them to say, He resembles our brother Joseph. There they are. It was a surprising sight to him and a painful one. He instantly determines to treat them in such a way that they will never come back to Egypt again. He says, “Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.” “No,” they say, “we are come to buy food; we are all the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. We are twelve brothers. The youngest is with our father, and one is not.”

"That remark about the youngest awakened a new thought in Joseph. Oh how it brought back the sad hour when his own mother, dying on the way that they were journeying, left that little Benjamin, his only full brother, in the hands of the weeping father! And how it reminded him, that when he was sold, Benjamin was a little lad at home. He is my own mother’s child. Instantly he resolves that Benjamin shall be here with him in Egypt, and that these others shall be scared away, so that they will never come back again; so he says, “Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, that your words may be proved, or else by the life of Pharaoh ye are spies.” He cast them all into prison; but on the third day he went to them and said: “I fear God; if ye be true men let one of you be bound in prison, and let the others go and carry food for your houses; and bring your youngest brother to me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die.” When he said that, they began to confess to one another their belief about the providential cause of this distress, when Reuben made a speech that brought a revelation to Joseph, He said to his brethren, “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear. Therefore, behold his blood is required.” Joseph learns for the first time that Reuben had befriended him, and this so touched his heart that he turned aside to weep. He passes by Reuben and takes the next to the oldest for the prisoner.

"He now gave the directions to his steward to sell them the grain; and why did he order the money to be tied up in the mouth of every man’s sack? “They were once so mean and avaricious that they sold me for fifteen petty pieces of silver. I will put their silver in the mouths of their sacks, and I will see if they are as dishonest as they were then. If they are, I will never hear of that money again.” Not many merchants in these days, if you go in and buy ten dollars’ worth of goods, will wrap the ten dollars in the bundle to see if it will come back. “I will see,” thought Joseph, “if they are honest.”

"Time went on—a good deal more than Joseph expected, on account of the unwillingness of Jacob to let Benjamin make the journey. But finally the news is brought that these ten Canaanites have returned. They are brought once more into his presence, and there is Benjamin. They still call him the “little one” and “the lad”; just as I have had mothers to introduce me to “the baby,” and the baby would be a strapping fellow six feet high. There he is. “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke?” He waits not for an answer, but exclaims, “God be gracious unto thee, my son.” He slips away into another room to weep. How near he is now to carrying out his plan—to having that dear brother, who had never harmed him, to enjoy his honors and riches and glory, and get rid of the others. He has them to dine in his house. That scared them. To dine with the governor! They could not conceive what it meant. Joseph knew. He had his plan formed. He wanted them there to give them a chance to steal something out of the dining-room. They enjoyed the dinner. They had never seen before so rich a table. He says to the steward, “Fill the men’s sacks with food; put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth, and put my silver cup in the sack’s mouth of the youngest.” It was done, and at daylight next morning they were on their journey home. They were not far on the way when the steward overtook them, with the demand, “Why have ye rewarded evil for good? Is it not this in which my Lord drinketh, and wherewith he divineth? Ye have done evil in so doing.” They answered, “God forbid that thy servants should do such a thing. Search, and if it be found with any one of us, let him die, and the rest of us will be your bondmen.” “No,” says the steward, “he with whom it is found shall be my bondman, and ye shall be blameless.” He begins his search with Reuben’s sack. It is not there. Then one by one he takes down the sacks of the others, until he reaches Benjamin’s. There is the cup! They all rend their clothes; and when the steward starts back with Benjamin, they follow him. They are frightened almost to death, but the steward can not get rid of them. Joseph was on the lookout for the steward and Benjamin. Yonder they come, but behind them are all the ten. What shall now be done? They come in and fall down before him once more, and say, “We are thy bondmen. God has found out our iniquity.” “No,” he says, “the man in whose hand the cup is found shall be my bondman; but as for you, get you up in peace to your father.”

"Joseph thought that his plan was a success. They will be glad to go in peace. I will soon have it all right with Benjamin. They will hereafter send somebody else to buy their grain. But Judah arose, drew near, and begged the privilege of speaking a word. He recites the incidents of their first visit, and speaks of the difficulty with which they had induced their father to let Benjamin come. He quotes from his father these words: “Ye know that my wife bore me two sons; one of them went out from me, and I said surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since, If ye take this one also from me and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.” He closes with the proposal, “Let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad, a bondman to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brethren.” Here was a revelation to Joseph—two of them. First, I have been blaming my old father for these twenty-two years because he did not send down into Egypt and hunt me up, and buy me out, and take me home; and now I see I have been blaming him unjustly, for he thought I was dead—that some wild beast had torn me in pieces. O what self-reproach, and what a revival of love for his old father! And here, again, I have been trying to drive these brothers away from me, as unworthy of any countenance on my part, or even an acquaintance with them; but what a change has come over them! The very men that once sold me for fifteen paltry pieces of silver, are now willing to be slaves themselves, rather than see their youngest brother made a slave, even when he appears to be guilty of stealing. What a change! Immediately all of his old affection for them takes possession of him, and with these two revelations flashing upon him, it is not surprising that he broke out into loud weeping. He weeps, and falls upon his brothers’ necks, He says, “I am Joseph.” A thought flashes through his mind, never conceived before, and he says, “Be not grieved, or angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither.” He sees now God’s hand all through this strange, sad experience, and using a Hebraism, he says, “It was not you that sent me hither, but God; God did send me before to preserve life.” When he was a prisoner there in the prison, he did not see God’s hand. I suppose he thought that it was all of the devil; but now that he has gotten to the end of the vista and looks back, he sees it is God who has done it. He sees in part what we saw in the first part of this discourse. O, my friends, many times when you shall have passed through deep waters that almost overwhelm you, and shall have felt alienated from all the friends you had on earth, thinking that they had deserted you, wait a little longer, and you will look up and say it was God; it was the working of grand, glorious, and blessed purposes that He had in his mind concerning you.

"The last question we can dispose of now very quickly, because it has been almost entirely anticipated. Why did God select ten men to be the heads of ten tribes of his chosen people, who were so base as to sell their brother? O, my brethren, it was not the ten who sold their brother that God selected, but the ten who were willing to be slaves instead of their brother. These are the ten that he chose. If you and I shall get to heaven, why will God admit us there? Not because of what we once were, but because of what He shall have made out of us by His dealings with us. He had his mind on the outcome, and not on the beginning. If you and I had to be judged by what we were at one time, there would be no hope for us. I am glad to know that my chances for the approval of the Almighty are based on what I hope to be, and not on what I am. Thank God for that!

"And they were worthy. How many men who, when the youngest brother of the family was clearly guilty of stealing, and was about to be made a slave, would say, “Let me be the slave, and let him go home to his father”? Not many. And what had brought about the wondrous change which they had undergone? Ah, here we have the other illustration of God’s providential government to which I have alluded. When these men held up the bloody coat before their father, knowing that Joseph was not dead, as he supposed, but not able to tell him so because the truth would be still more distressing than the fiction, What father would not rather a thousand times over that one of his sons should be dead, than that one of them should be kidnapped and sold into foreign bondage by the others? If their father’s grief was inconsolable, their own remorse was intolerable. For twenty-two long years they writhed under it, and there is no wonder that then they should prefer foreign bondage themselves rather than to witness a renewal of their father’s anguish. The same chain of providence which brought them unexpectedly into Egypt, had fitted them for the high honors which were yet to crown their names.

"Is there a poor sinner here today, whom God has disciplined, whether less or more severely than He did those men, and brought to repentance? If so, the kind Redeemer whom you rejected, and sold, as it were, to strangers, stands ready to forgive you more completely and perfectly than Joseph forgave his brethren. He has found out your iniquity; he knows it all; but he died that he might be able to forgive you. Come in his appointed way; come guilty and trembling, as Joseph’s brothers came, and you will find His everlasting arms around you."

The wonder that God can change any situation if we are willing. Even if God does not want to change the situation He will give us grace to bear it. 2 Corinthians 12:7

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