Today’s Reading: Genesis 43-45
Today’s Reflection: Genesis 43:33-34
33) And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34) Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
After being sold by his half-brothers Joseph spent 13 years in slavery and prison before God brought about events that caused him to be elevated to the second highest position in all of Egypt behind Pharaoh himself. Having been given the knowledge by God and the authority from Pharaoh to save Egypt and the surrounding nations from a devastating famine it was only a matter of time before his position would bring his brothers to him.
In fulfillment of the dreams he had been given as a young man, Joseph’s 10 half-brothers had come bowing before him asking to buy grain. But Joseph’s chief concern was for his one full brother Benjamin. Would the jealousy that caused his half-brothers to sell him into slavery extend to the other child of his father’s most favoured wife, Rachel? He needed to be sure Benjamin wasn’t at risk for the same treatment he had suffered, so Joseph hid his identity and conspired to force his half-brothers to return with Benjamin. When they did so he held a dinner for them, but deliberately gave Benjamin favoured treatment to see how his half-brothers would react (the test would continue and intensify in Genesis 44).
Sin, by definition, is a breakdown of relationship between man and God and between man and his fellow man. Broken relationship means a breakdown of trust as well. The gift of forgiveness releases people from having their mistakes held against them, but restoration must take place to re-establish trust and allow the relationship to continue. And one of the processes God uses in the process of restoration is testing us to see if we’ve learned our lessons or if we will repeat the mistakes of the past. Three important points to remember about the role of testing in our lives:
1) Testing is done by God, not by us: In this example it appears that it is Joseph testing his brothers, but recognizing how extraordinary the circumstances it is clear this test was created by God and merely carried out by Joseph. We as people are warned not to judge others (Matthew 7:1), and by the same token we should be careful not to invent tests for people based on our own wisdom or perceptions, both of which are often deeply flawed. Trust God to put others to the test, and if you are to play a role God will create the appropriate circumstances.
2) God’s testing is done not to hurt but to help: The line in the Lord’s prayer “Lead us not into temptation” is actually a request asking God to help us develop a character that no longer needs to be tempted to prove we’ve overcome our sins and shortcomings. Testing serves this purpose, helping us to recognize where we fall short when we fail, and helping us form a Christ-like character when we succeed. Testing by God is never done as a punishment (though the consequences if we fail the test may feel like punishment).
3) Testing is part of God’s protection for us: Given his experience Joseph had good reason to fear. Though he had forgiven his half-brothers, he didn’t know if he could trust them with Benjamin’s safety. God allowed Joseph to be part of the test so he could trust them and confidently proceed in relationship with them. Forgiveness looks backward, but trust looks forward, and testing proves trustworthiness. While God wants us to forgive those who hurt us, He doesn’t want or expect us to remain in situations where we know we will be hurt again. The testing God gives us and others, and our responses to those tests, provides guidance to help us make important decisions about trust and relationships.
James 1:2-3 – 2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.