The Pinch of Want

Wednesday: The Conscience of Joseph’s Brothers

Genesis 42:1-5 In this week’s studies, we see what the conscience is, how it works, and the need for our conscience to lead us in wise and righteous ways by the Word of God.
The Conscience of Joseph’s Brothers

As we begin the forty-second chapter of Genesis, we come to this matter of the conscience. For in a certain sense the story of Genesis at this point ceases to be merely Joseph’s story, and becomes largely the story of Joseph’s ten brothers as God works through many devices to awaken their nearly dead consciences and bring them to repentance and cleansing. We do not know much about the state of their hearts in the long years leading up to this chapter. But they had been guilty of great wickedness, and they never mentioned God. It is probably right to regard them as having been unsaved men. Therefore, it is through God’s work on their consciences that they are actually born again. 

In this and the other messages we are going to see how God shines upon a dark conscience, stirs it and brings repentance. 

I have spoken several times of our ability to kill our consciences, or at least put them into such a deep sleep that they cannot bother us. But as we begin this chapter we cannot really feel that the consciences of Joseph’s brothers were utterly subdued. Dozing perhaps, but fitfully! Wounded, even gravely wounded, but not dead! Why do I say this? It is because of a very strange sentence in verse 1. Genesis 42:1-2 tell us, “When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you just keep looking at each other? . . . I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.’” What is the significance of that question, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” And what does it have to do with ten men being sent to Egypt to buy grain? 

Well, there is a proverb that says: “Never speak of rope in the house of a hangman.” We remember when we begin to think about this situation that Egypt was the place into which these men—Benjamin had not been among them—had sold Joseph. They had planned to kill him. But when the caravan of Midianite merchants came by on their way to Egypt, Judah said, “Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood” (Gen. 37:27). This was done. 

The Midianites counted out the twenty shekels of silver. Joseph was handed over. The last the brothers saw of Joseph was his anguished face as he was led away in chains with the caravan. 

The brothers devised a lie to explain his disappearance to Jacob. They tore Joseph’s robe and dipped it in blood, pretending that a wild animal had killed and eaten him. Then they tried to put the incident from their minds. But they could not. We can imagine the furtive glances between them whenever Joseph’s name would be mentioned, and we can imagine the weight that must have descended on them whenever the place of their brother’s imprisonment was spoken of. 

Egypt? Egypt?  Judah must have looked at Reuben, and Reuben at Simeon. Levi must have thrown anguished glances toward Zebulun. “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” Jacob asked. Egypt? Egypt? It was as Shakespeare said, “Conscience [did] make cowards of [them] all.”

Study Questions
  1. How does the theme of the conscience emerge in Genesis 42?
  2. Why did Joseph’s brothers not want to go down to Egypt?

Prayer: Give praise to the Lord for times when he awakens your conscience to lead you to repentance.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Conscience: Its Nature and Origin.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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