Press of Solitude

Thursday: Bitter Memory

Genesis 42:17-23 In this week’s studies, we learn the importance of solitude for our relationship with the Lord.
Bitter Memory

The second thing solitude did in the lives of these men was refresh their memories. So far as we know, there had never been a time previous to this when the anguish of Joseph had been openly discussed between them. Indeed, the narration itself does not mention it. It is only when their deep guilt has already been forced to the surface that they remember what we had long suspected but had not been told was the case, namely, that Joseph had cried and pleaded for his life but was not heeded. They say, “We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen” (v. 21). 

This is just one sentence; it treats the matter briefly. But I am sure that even a quick reading of this sentence makes clear that it was the details of their attack on Joseph and his anguished response that came back to them on this occasion. In the broadest sense, of course, they always remembered what they had done. There was never a moment when they had been able entirely to forget it. Yet now, in silence and with time to recollect, that stricken face, those copious tears, that frightened and reproachful final backward glance—these came vividly to their minds and smote them inwardly. 

There is a section of Paradise Lost in which the great English poet John Milton spoke of conscience awakening the memory of past days for Satan: 

Now conscience wakes despair 

That slumber’d, wakes the bitter memory 

Of what he was, what is, and what must be (Book 4, line 23). 

“Bitter memory of what . . . was.” That is what makes memory so effective in God’s hand. It is not merely recollection of sin in general but the vivid recalling of the specific details of sin—in Satan’s case, of “what he was” before his rebellion—that is painful. 

You and I, all of us, may have disgraceful incidents in our past, and it is the details of these that come to mind as God works upon us during our moments of solitude. F.B. Meyer writes, 

In early life you may have wronged some man or some woman. You may have taught some young lad to swear. You may have laughed away the early impressions from some anxious seeker, until they fled to return no more. You may not have done your best to save those committed to your care. And now others seem to be treating you as you treated the associates of earlier days. You now are eager for salvation; and you learn the bitterness of being ridiculed, thwarted, tempted and opposed. You recall the past; it flashes before you with terrible intensity. You cry, “God forgive me! I am verily guilty concerning that soul whom I betrayed or wronged.” And this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Let him have his blessed way with you, till you are led by him to Jesus.3 

3F.B. Meyer, Joseph: Beloved-Hated-Exalted (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1982), 75.

Study Questions
  1. What is the second thing solitude achieved in the lives of Joseph’s brothers?
  2. What did they recall?

Reflection: What in your life do you regret doing or saying? Have you confessed this and repented of it? Ask the Lord to give you the assurance of forgiveness, and to remove any lingering guilt. 

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