Press of Solitude

Wednesday: Let Conscience Work

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

In the stillness of the brothers’ solitude, they began to hear the voice of God’s Spirit. The way the story is told we are introduced to the brothers’ thoughts only after Joseph had released them from prison after the three days and had begun to interrogate and deal with them again. But although their changing attitudes emerge in response to his prodding, I have no doubt that they merely reflect what had already been building up in their minds during the days of confinement. God was at work. Therefore, the ice of their rebellion was melting and the crime of which they were guilty was beginning to work its way toward the surface. 

The first thing solitude did was awaken and intensify guilt. Awaken may not be the perfect word for what was happening, as the brothers seem to have had some awareness of their guilt throughout the story. But they had nevertheless done their best to put their guilt to sleep, and it was this at-least-dozing guilt that was now being jarred into consciousness. Moreover, it was being intensified by the brothers’ dire circumstances. It was bad enough that they had been harshly received by Joseph and had been placed in prison. But then, after three days had passed and they had been released, they discovered that the prime minister was confronting them with an even more painful dilemma. He was letting them go home, but he was going to require them to leave one of their number behind as proof that they would return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, as he had requested. Joseph said, “If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die” (vv. 19-20). 

The next line says, “This they proceeded to do” (v. 20). 

What understatement! What delicate telling of what must have been a most traumatic moment in their lives! All can go but one. One must stay. Ah, but who was to be that one? Who was to remain behind in the prime minister’s prison uncertain of his fate, of whether he would ever be released or ever see his homeland again? I can see the brothers looking at one another with even greater anguish now than when they had looked at one another while still at home with their father Jacob. 

Should Reuben stay? Reuben who had dishonored his own father by sleeping with his concubine Bilhah? 

Should Judah stay? Judah had committed incest with his daughter-in-law Tamar. 

What about Simeon or Levi who had taken such cruel and unjustifiable revenge on the unsuspecting citizens of Shechem? 

Each of the ten had his own particular sins rising before him like a ghost of days past. But over them all stood the one apparently damning sin of their vicious and utterly unjustified enslavement and possible murder of their brother. No wonder they said, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother.” (v. 21)! No wonder Reuben exclaimed, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” (v. 22)! 

Eventually they settled on Simeon as the one who should remain behind. Perhaps Simeon even volunteered. But whether it was Simeon or some other, each of them knew that he himself had every right to be incarcerated. Solitude was doing its work. Guilt was intensifying.

Study Questions
  1. Describe the first thing solitude did for Joseph’s brothers?
  2. After Joseph’s brothers were released from prison, what happened next to increase their guilt?

Application: In what ways have times of solitude been good for you?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Alone but for the Lord.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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