This morning we reach the climax of the story of the sons of Jacob. We are spent the summer walking our way with the brothers in the pits of life, seeing God’s faithfulness along the way. In our passage this morning, reconciliation breaks in like light breaking through the clouds. If you have a Bible with you, you can turn there with me. It’s Genesis 44:14-45:28. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.
Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?” And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest before goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my grey hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’ Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the grey hairs of your servant my father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If i do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more year in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 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. 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 delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you are your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there – since there are five more years of famine to come – so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of your brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further charged 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. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of the land of Egypt is yours.’”
The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brother on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.”
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even rule over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that 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. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”
The heart of the Joseph story is reconciliation. While Joseph’s role in averting the famine and feeding the world is important, the story turns on the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. God’s mission in the life of this family would not be complete if the world was fed, but the brother remained estranged. So today, we witness the reconciliation of the twelve sons of Jacob. Yet as we see the reconciliation play out in our passage today, we need to notice that reconciliation comes with a cost, it comes with blessing, and it comes with a call. Reconciliation comes with a cost, it comes with a blessing, and it comes with a call.
The cost of reconciliation – Judah in place of Benjamin
First, reconciliation is costly, It cost Judah in place of Benjamin.
For much of this story, we have had our focus on Joseph – we saw Joseph thrown into a pit by his brothers, then hauled out and cast into slavery. We saw God’s faithfulness to Joseph by blessing the work of his hands in Potiphar’s house. We saw Joseph falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and then thrown into prison. There, too, God was with Joseph, giving him favor in the sight of the chief jailor. God was with Joseph when two high profile prisoners had dreams and God enabled Joseph to interpret them. God was with Joseph when Pharaoh had a dream and the cupbearer remembered Joseph and at his interpretation, Joseph was elevated by Pharaoh to second in command over all Egypt. We saw Joseph go down, down, down, only to be lifted up and used to bless the world with food.
For the most part, this story has been Joseph, Joseph, and more Joseph.
But there have been hints of Judah’s importance in the story of the brothers. When Joseph was crying out in the well, Judah was the one not content to simply kill Joseph and hide it, but wanted to profit from it. It was Judah’s suggestion that Joseph be sold into slavery – and the brothers listened. We heard how Judah married a woman of the land, his life flourished only to go spiraling out of control as his sons turned out wicked and were judged. The tenacious Tamar encounters Judah in a self-righteous rage and Judah repents and returns to his brothers. Judah becomes a man after God’s own heart, not because he always does right, but because he repents when he does wrong. And when talking with Jacob about their situation of hunger, it is Judah who takes the lead among the brothers. There have been hints of Judah’s importance to the story.
Here at the climax, both Judah and Joseph are brought front and center, and it is Judah who ultimately brings about the reconciliation of the brothers.
Joseph silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. We know that Joseph had it placed there, but the brothers do not. They had rashly vowed that if any of them had the cup, that person would die and the rest would become Joseph’s slaves. But then, stunningly, the cup is found in Benjamin’s sack. Instead of abandoning their brother, the ten remaining brothers head back to Egypt to plead with Joseph. Judah takes the lead. He doesn’t try and wiggle his way out. He doesn’t protest their innocence. He knows with the evidence as it is, there is no hope for Benjamin. He speaks for the brothers saying that they all will become slaves of Joseph.
But Joseph refuses. Only the one. Only Benjamin. So Judah gives the longest speech in the whole book of Genesis. He recounts their earlier encounters, how they told Joseph about their father and younger brother, how they revealed how precious this young boy was to their father, and how Joseph had demanded that Benjamin be brought to him. Judah tells how the loss of Benjamin would lead to the death of Jacob and then makes an offer.
Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.
Judah’s life in place of Benjamin’s. Judah’s future sacrificed instead of Benjamin’s. Judah will become the slave so that Benjamin can go free – for the sake of Benjamin and for the sake of their father Jacob.
Let me remain in his place. That is the cost of reconciliation. Judah in place of Benjamin.
Because at this act, this offer, the dam breaks and Joseph cannot hold it back anymore. Reconciliation breaks in, they embrace, they weep, they talk, blessings come raining down, all because Judah offered himself in place of Benjamin.
All it cost was Judah’s life, his freedom, his future, in place of Benjamin.
This reconciliation was costly. What ultimately brought the estranged brothers together was not some heroic effort or even a casual, cheap forgiveness (such as ‘it was a long time ago, it’s all okay’), but the costly sacrifice of Judah.
But reconcilation, true reconciliation, true grace is always costly. The pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about the costliness of grace:
“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us” (45)
Grace, Reconciliation is costly because it cost God the life of his Son and it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Reconciliation between the twelve brothers happened because Judah delivered himself up for Benjamin. This act is arguably the single clearest picture of the gospel in the whole of the Old Testament. In sin, we are estranged from God, from ourselves, from each other, from creation. We live in the pit, no matter how big our house or how full our bank account. Yet in Christ, God has brought about reconcilation. And that reconciliation was costly. Jesus is the greater Judah – the lion of the tribe of Judah – who brought about our reconciliation with God through his costly sacrifice. It was costly because it cost God the life of his Son and it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
The blessings of reconciliation – embrace
In that act of Judah, reconciliation breaks in for the brothers. And in that one act of Christ on the cross, reconciliation breaks in for all who believe and belong to Jesus Christ. And with that reconciliation comes blessing – chiefly the blessing of embrace.
The brother cannot believe it when Joseph is revealed to them. They are dismayed at his presence. For twenty years they had thought him dead, and they had lived with the guilt and pain of what they had done. Now Joseph stands before them and stand in power over them and they are too terrified to speak. So Joseph invites them close. He tells them of all God had done in bringing him to Egypt and calls for them to bring their father down and settle in Goshen. And then Joseph embraces them.
Joseph embraces the brothers – physical, tangible sign of that love and reconciliation – he does not raise his fist in revenge for all they had done, he does not stay distant, aloof, and pass judgment, instead he falls upon Benjamin’s neck and weeps, kisses all his brothers and weeps on them. We see the heart of Joseph in this action, his love and the depth of the reconciliation.
The sign and blessing of reconciliation is seen in this embrace. To be reconciled is to be welcomed into an embrace. Before the brothers were distant, before they were treated as strangers, but now he pulls them into his arms. This is what reconciliation looks like.
We all get this need for reconciliation, for embrace. We know how important these tangible signs of love, warmth, and reconciliation can be. This is why, for so many of us, social gatherings are so hard right now. We see each other, but we are told not to embrace, not to touch, and we feel the loss of the ability to give physical, tangible form to our love and reconciliation with one another. We get that when we love, when we forgive, when all is well, we embrace each other, or at least shake hands. We long for those physical signs that the distance has been bridged.
Joseph embraces his brothers, pulling them from their decades of distance into his loving arms. In doing so, we get a glimpse of the wonderful blessings of reconciliation.
In Christ, we are welcomed into the Father’s embrace. Our distance from God is overcome and we are brought into the Father’s arms. Reconciliation is more than just saying the past is not counted against us anymore, but it is being brought into the loving arms of the Father. In reconciliation, we are not only forgiven, but embraced. Like Joseph, who does not simply say that the brothers should not be afraid, but pulls them into his arms, our gracious LORD not only wipes away our sins through the blood of Christ, but pulls us into his embrace as well.
This is the chief blessing of reconciliation – both for Joseph and his brothers and for us with God – embrace – to be drawn into his arms in love.
The call of reconciliation – “Do not quarrel along the way”
Reconciliation comes at a great cost – Judah in place of Benjamin, Christ in our place. Reconciliation comes with great blessing – embrace, being welcomed into the arms of the Father. But reconciliation also comes with a call.
Pharaoh hears of Joseph’s brothers arrival and agrees with Joseph’s plan to settle his family in the land of Goshen. He provides wagons for the whole family to come down. Joseph decks the brothers our in new clothes, lavishing five times as much on Benjamin, and then sends twenty donkeys worth of goods to his father Jacob. After all of this, Joseph gives the brothers a seemingly odd command as they go back to bring their father Jacob.
Do not quarrel along the way.
It seems an odd thing to say because this just happened to them. They were reconciled to Joseph after decades apart. Benjamin was restored to them, even Judah would not suffer slavery. They had been embraced by their brother and showered with gifts and were being sent back with incredibly good news. If this had just happened, why would they even think of fighting, why would they even think of quarreling?
Why would Joseph feel the need to give the command, Do not quarrel along the way?
Yet don’t we?
I mean, What has happened to us in Christ, us the church? We who were strangers and enemies of God in our sin have been reconciled through the costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We have been forgiven and brought into the embrace of God. We too have been showered with gifts, given new clothes – the righteousness of Christ – and been sent out to the world with incredibly good news.
Yet do we not quarrel along the way? Can we pretend that the history of the church is not riddled with quarreling? Is it no accident how much of Paul’s letters to the churches in the New Testament deal with in-fighting and quarreling among God’s people?
Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are”
or 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, but the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.”
Or Philippians 4:2 “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord”
I could go on. We, the church, quarrel along the way. We have been reconciled and embraced and yet as we walk along this road of faith together, we are tempted at every point, just like Joseph’s brothers, to quarrel with one another. Can we pretend that this never happens here at Bethel? That none of us has ever gotten angry (legitimately or not) and then held a grudge? That we have never said words in anger, given glances in judgment, or simply not loved our brother and sister? Can we pretend that we never quarrel along the way?
Jesus echoes Joseph’s words – Do not quarrel on the way – when he gives this command to his disciples: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Are we, as a church, listening well to the words of Jesus or are we content to quarrel along the way?
So friends, You have been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus – greater than Judah before him, the lion of the tribe of Judah has laid down his life in our place, entering even death and judgment for us. In doing so, we have been welcomed into the Father’s embrace. So as those reconciled and embraced, go follow Jesus Christ and do not quarrel on the way. Ephesians 4:32 says, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.