Forgiveness brings grace and mercy.
Genesis(93) (Part of the Origins(91) series)
by Marc Webb(59) on May 14, 2023 (Sunday Morning(291))
Confession(9), Forgiveness(11), Salvation(68)
The following is from A.J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath. In 1991, a yet-to-be-identified flea market enthusiast discovered a simple picture frame to his liking. Securing the purchase, the shopper returned home only to discover an ancient document hiding inconspicuously behind the frame. Thinking little of the discovery, he continued about his life. Two years later, a friend stumbled on the document and investigated its origin. The rest is history. The four-dollar frame had hidden a first – edition copy of the Declaration of Independence reportedly worth north of one million dollars. This accidental discovery is not isolated. There was the contractor who found $182,000 in a bathroom wall he was remodeling. A three-dollar Chinese bowl later sold at Sotheby’s for $2.2 million — it was a treasure from the Northern Song Dynasty. Then there was that California family who stumbled on a can of ancient gold coins in their backyard valued at $10 million. This was all hidden treasure just waiting for someone to find it. Have you ever found money in your pants pocket that you forgot you had? Maybe it went through the wash and the next time you put them on there it was. Or maybe you get your winter coat out and find money that has been there the whole summer. Maybe you found some change in your car or in your sofa cushions that allowed you to get that morning coffee. These are hidden treasures that you may have forgotten about but were just waiting to be found.
Grace and mercy are a lot like hidden treasure. God’s grace and mercy is all over our lives but sometimes we struggle to see it or feel it. We get so caught up in our lives and the world we live in that it’s hard to recognize the grace and mercy He gives us. Sometimes it’s hard for us to accept it because we think we don’t deserve it. And really, we don’t. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what we do deserve. God in his infinite love sent his son to die on a cross for us extending grace and mercy to us all. And it can fully be ours, but we must embrace it, we must accept it, and the great thing is that it is free. One reason why we don’t fully embrace grace and mercy is because of sin in our lives. Unconfessed sin causes us to react negatively to situations blinding us to God’s grace and mercy. These negative reactions can cause us to sin but when we confess our sins we can be forgiven. Once we are forgiven, we are better prepared to react positively and rightly to situations in our lives. When we ask forgiveness from God, he gives us grace and mercy and when we ask for forgiveness from others it allows us to fully embrace grace and mercy from them without feeling any guilt or shame. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that Forgiveness brings grace and mercy.
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we open your Word this morning, we ask for your Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn and what you want us to share with those we encounter this week. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This morning there are three points, and in each point, we will see how grace and mercy is extended even in the midst of negative reactions and sin. Our first point this morning is Jacob Prays for Mercy found in Genesis 43:1-15. This is what God’s Word says, “Now the famine was still severe in the land. So, when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.” But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’” Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?” Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.” Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” So the men took the gifts and doubled the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph.”
The famine that sent Jacob’s sons on their first trip to Egypt is still going strong and is still severe in the land of Canaan. We should not be surprised since Pharaoh's dream foretold that the famine would last for seven years. The family has eaten all the grain that was brought back from Egypt on the first trip. And now Jacob asked his sons to go back to buy a little more food. This was a very different Jacob than we saw last week when he rebuked them for not taking the initiative to go to Egypt and buy food so the family would live and not die. Now he is asking them politely. It’s as if he is asking them to just run down to the corner market and grab a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. We see Judah speak up as he seems to have taken on the role of spokesperson for the brothers. He immediately reminds his father that the man (talking about Joseph) “solemnly warned” them that the only way to “see his face” again would be to bring their youngest brother to Egypt. In the last chapter they downplayed Joseph’s threats but this time he tells his father that the man “solemnly warned” them meaning that it was no empty threat. The word “solemnly” would have made it even more ominous. In order to get an audience with “the man” Benjamin would have to be with them. Notice that Judah mentions this warning twice. He wanted to let his father know that taking Benjamin back to Egypt was non-negotiable.
Judah also gives his father an ultimatum. He tells him if he sends Benjamin, they will go to Egypt but if he won’t send him, they will not go. Judah will not overstep his father’s authority and go against his wishes. It will be Jacob’s decision to make. Hamilton asks, “Will he consign his family to starve to death, losing Benjamin in the process or is he willing to release him and take his chances?” Once this ultimatum has been delivered, Jacob reacts negatively. He continues to wallow in self-pity and accuses his sons of bringing this trouble on him. He is still acting selfishly, not seeming to care for the rest of his family and what will happen to them. This “trouble” is having to make a decision about sending Benjamin to Egypt or not. He blames his sons for telling “the man” that they even had another brother. He seems to imply that they should have lied about it. The old deceiver seems to be making another appearance. Jacob is not taking responsibility for his family and in fact he is shirking his responsibility as patriarch of the clan. In his heart, he knows that he is going to have to allow Benjamin to go, but he’s not going to be happy about it and he sins against his sons in the process.
Then we see that all the brothers reply to their father. They tell him that the man questioned them closely about their family, asking if their father was alive or not and if they had another brother. They say they just simply answered his questions. “What else were we to do? How were we to know?” How do we reconcile this with what we learned in chapter 42? We saw in Chapter 42 Joseph accusing his brothers of spying but never asking them personal questions. The brothers seem to volunteer the information about their family. It is possible that chapter 43 gives us a fuller picture of the dialogue than chapter 42. But I still believe in the premise that I put forth last week. That they volunteered this family information in order to prove that they were not spies. Each time Joseph accused them they became more desperate to convince him he was wrong. They kept volunteering more and more information about their family. Also, when we look back at what they told their father when they first returned from Egypt, we see that they didn’t mention that the man questioned them closely. It’s almost like they got their story straight once they were home and had a chance to talk about it. They didn’t want to upset their father, so they use the excuse that it was the “man” who questioned them so closely and they had no choice but to be honest.
Judah again takes the lead asking his father to send the boy with him and they will leave at once. This leaving at once will get Benjamin back quicker and would save three generations of the family from dying. Judah is reminding Jacob of his duty to protect the younger, more vulnerable generation. Notice Judah calls Benjamin “the boy” showing a change in affection and a softening of his attitude toward his youngest half-brother. Judah guarantees Benjamin’s safety, saying he can be held personally responsible and will bear the blame forever before Jacob. In the least he would live in shame for the rest of his life and at the most he placed his own life at risk if he didn’t not return with Benjamin. This pledge by Judah would not have been entered into lightly. Last week we saw that Reuben offered his two sons as surety for Benjamin’s life. The differences were, one, Judah offered his life for the life of Benjamin whereas Reuben offered the lives of his two sons. Judah was willing to put his own life on the line not anyone else’s. Two, Reuben was speaking from a place of guilt and shame for his part in what happened to Joseph. Judah was speaking from a place of leadership and responsibility. Judah then accuses his father of procrastinating just as his father had accused the sons before. If they had not delayed, they could have gone and returned twice already. Judah is reminding Jacob that they wanted to leave right away for Egypt after returning home, but he would not let Benjamin out of his sight.
Once again, Jacob resigns himself to what had to be done (if it must be). He is lacking in faith and not trusting in the sovereignty of God for a joyous outcome. But then he takes charge in getting a gift ready for his sons to present to the man. This is reminiscent of Jacob sending wave after wave of animals to Esau as a gift to him so his brother would find favor in his sight in Gen. 32. This gift was not as extravagant but it was for the same purpose which was to placate the man so he would show mercy to his family and allow Simeon and Benjamin to come home. It seems the famine had affected just their grain and not the other things that Canaan produced. They took the choicest products of the land of Canaan and put them in their bags. The list of items: balm, honey, spices, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds would have reminded the first hearers of what the Ishmaelites were taking to Egypt in their caravan when the brothers sold Joseph to them.
Jacob also told his sons to take double the amount of silver so they could repay what was found in the mouths of their sacks. Jacob is still a little wary of his sons as he hopes finding the silver in their sacks was a mistake. In his mind, the alternative may have been that they sold Simeon for the silver or stole it. He doesn’t see the providence of God in this and is allowing the emotion of his losses to dictate his theology (Gangel & Bramer). Lastly, he says “take your brother and go.” Notice he doesn’t mention Benjamin by name, believing that if he doesn’t say his name he’s not really going. In the midst of his self-pity, pointing fingers and procrastination, Jacob prays for mercy. He prays to God Almighty, El Shaddai, to give them mercy before the man so he will allow the other brother and Benjamin to come back to him. Notice he doesn’t use Simeon’s name, still only concerned with Benjamin. Jacob is able for a few moments to turn to God and ask for his mercy hoping that it all turns out well. The moment doesn’t last very long though as he immediately refocuses on himself with “As for me.” That is not a statement of faith. He has resigned himself to being bereaved. In the midst of negative reactions and sinning against his sons, Jacob prays for mercy, but he doesn’t really expect to receive it. His unconfessed sin is blinding him to what God wants to do in his life. All he needed to do was confess his sin to the Lord and he would find the hidden treasure of grace and mercy. BIG IDEA. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to Confess my sins to the Lord uncovering the hidden treasure of grace and mercy in my life. Jacob’s prayer will still be answered by God even in his sinful condition. That is the grace and mercy of God on full display. The brothers then leave Canaan to go to Egypt taking the gifts, double the silver and Benjamin. And they hurried down to Egypt to present themselves before Joseph.
This brings us to our second point this morning, God Gives Mercy, found in Genesis 43:16-25. This is what God’s Word says, “When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.” The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.” So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.” “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.”
When the brothers present themselves before Joseph, he immediately recognizes that Benjamin is with them. He has the steward take his brothers to his house, slaughter an animal, and prepare dinner for them because they were going to eat with him at noon. When they arrive at Joseph’s house, they become frightened, convinced that they were being detained or worse for the silver that was found in their sacks. They believed that the man was going to attack them, overpower them and make them his slaves. Which, ironically, is what they did to Joseph. Their guilt was making them paranoid. If Joseph wanted to arrest them and take their donkeys, he could have done it at the border. Even though they knew they hadn’t stolen the silver they still believed God was punishing them for what they had done to their brother. Joseph wanted to give his brothers this meal as a show of grace and mercy to them. He had forgiven them for what they had done, but their guilt hid the treasure of grace and mercy from them. If they had just confessed what they had done to Joseph, they would not have been frightened and could have embraced the grace and mercy he wanted to give them. BIG IDEA
They had brought double the silver with them to return it, so they went to the steward to state their case. They spoke to him at the entrance to the house because they thought if they went inside, they wouldn’t be allowed to leave. They explained to the steward that on the way home from the first trip they found silver in the mouth of their sacks, and it was the same weight they had brought to buy food with. They wanted to return that silver back and had brought extra silver to purchase more food. They tell the steward that they have no idea who put the silver in their sacks. The brothers were expecting judgment for stealing the silver not mercy so were surprised when the steward said “it was alright.” He told them to not be afraid because their God, the God of their father, has given them treasure in your sacks. They would have been astonished that this Egyptian knew anything about their God. The steward also said he had received their silver from before.
This treasure given to them by God was not just the returned silver but his grace and mercy. The treasure was hidden to them because all they could see was their guilt, shame and judgment. God gave them grace and mercy even in the midst of their guilt and shame for what they had done to Joseph. But they needed to confess their sin against Joseph and ask for his forgiveness in order to fully accept and embrace God’s treasure. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to Ask forgiveness from those I have sinned against uncovering the hidden treasure of grace and mercy they want to give me. Then the steward brought Simeon out to them, answering part of Jacob’s prayer to God Almighty for mercy. The steward then extended the finest hospitality to them. He gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. After offering to return the silver they felt more comfortable with the arrangements and prepared the gifts they had brought for Joseph.
The third point this morning is Joseph Extends Mercy found in Genesis 43:26-34. This is what God’s Word says, “When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?” They replied, “Your servant, our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him. As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.”
When Joseph arrived at his home the brothers humbly presented their gifts to him, bowing down paying homage to him. This fully fulfilled Joseph’s first dream in chapter 37 where the eleven sheaves bowed down to his. Again, this would have given Joseph confidence and trust in God’s plan. Joseph continued to show hospitality to his brothers by inquiring into their welfare. He cared for them and was genuinely concerned with how they were doing. He also asked how their aged father was and if he was still alive. With the famine ravaging the land he couldn’t be sure if his father was still living. Notice he asked about their father who “you told me about” not “who I asked you about.” Maybe that is just semantics, but I think it is telling. They referred to their father as a servant of Joseph’s, meaning they were dependent on him and informed him he was alive and well. Joseph then “looked about” and saw Benjamin. To “look about” indicates that what is about to be seen is most important. Benjamin is identified as his “own mother’s son” emphasizing the bond between them as two born from the same womb. He rhetorically asked them if this was the younger brother that again “they had told him about.” He didn’t need an answer because he knew who he was. Joseph blessed Benjamin asking God to be gracious to him. This display would have astonished the brothers like the steward’s news did. Joseph is so overwhelmed with emotion that he must hurry out looking for a place to weep. He ends up going to his private room to weep there. We assume that God has not finished his testing of the brothers or Joseph would have told them who he was.
After Joseph washed his face and had composed himself, he told the servants to serve the food. Egyptian customs would not allow them to eat at the same table as Hebrews because it was detestable to them and would have made them unclean. So, Joseph was served by himself, the brothers by themselves and the Egyptians who were eating with them by themselves. But Joseph’s table was close enough to the brother’s table that they could interact with each other. Joseph extended mercy by giving them a lavish meal that very few foreigners had probably ever seen. As the brothers were seated, they were again astonished because they were all seated in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest. All these astonishments would have alarmed the brothers thinking that God’s judgment was not yet finished. The seating would have highlighted Benjamin as the youngest in order to set them up for what would happen next. That the portions were served directly from Joseph’s table signified that he would be the source of the family’s survival (Mathews). When the portions came out Benjamin received five times the food that the brothers did. He was being favored and singled out receiving an extravagant amount of food. This would have equated to Joseph’s coat of many colors given to him by his father. Joseph was testing the brothers to see if there was any jealousy in them for Benjamin. Ross says, “Envy and hatred among God’s people would be disastrous to the unity of the nation and so could not be left unchecked.” Joseph will continue to put pressure on the brothers to see if they have really changed, but for now they passed several tests. The brought Benjamin to Egypt, they brought the silver back and they did not show envy or jealousy toward Benjamin. Lastly, they were well fed and satisfied having communion and conversation with Joseph. Joseph was able to extend this mercy to them because he had already forgiven them for what they had done to him, not holding it against them. BIG IDEA
The closing this morning is from Preaching Today: The famous and luxurious Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, was originally owned and managed by George and Edith Vanderbilt, an elegant couple known for their exceptional treatment of their rich and famous guests. But they were also known for the way they treated their staff. For example, there’s the story of how George Vanderbilt treated a young employee named Bessie Smith. Smith was a teenager when she began working at the Biltmore, and she was intimidated by its opulence. On her first day as a server, she walked into the house's grand banquet hall and, startled by the vastness of the room, dropped the tray of monogrammed china she was carrying. George [Vanderbilt], a professorial figure with dark hair and a slightly curved mustache, rose from his chair as his guests looked on, wondering what this great man was going to say. But he didn't say anything. Instead, he got down on his hands and knees and helped her pick up the shards. Then he told her, “Come see me in the morning.” Bessie Smith assumed she was going to be fired. Instead, [George Vanderbilt] promoted Bessie to housekeeper, so she wouldn't have to carry such heavy dishes. That’s the kind of man he was, and that’s the kind of God we serve. When we mess up, He doesn’t condemn us, no! Because of Christ, He promotes us! He uses us for His glory! That’s what grace and forgiveness are all about; and if you have never experienced that kind of grace, please trust Christ today, who died for you and rose again. Trust in the One who loved you even while you were still a sinner. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to Accept Jesus as my Savior, uncovering the hidden treasure of His grace and mercy. I hope that if you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus today that you will make that decision and embrace the grace, mercy and forgiveness that only God can give to you.
As the praise team comes forward and the ushers prepare to pick up the tithes and offerings, let’s pray: Lord God, help us to realize that we need to confess our sins to you. Humble us so we can ask forgiveness from those we have wronged. And open our hearts to accept you as our Lord and Savior if we haven’t already. Help us to uncover the hidden treasure of grace and mercy and embrace it in our lives. To your honor and your glory, in Jesus’ name. Amen.