“God Has Found Out Our Guilt” – Genesis 44
Listen to the Sermon:
Well this morning as we come to our passage a brief couple of words to help us to understand where we are. We quit kind of right in the middle of a story looking at chapter 43 last week. Last week Joseph’s brothers had gone down to Egypt to buy grain and they were fearful of meeting Joseph, whom they didn’t realize was their brother. When they went down there, he was very kind to them, he forgave them for having money put back in their sacks the last time, which they had tried to repay. He threw them a banquet and at that banquet Joseph had given an extra portion five-fold more to Benjamin their youngest brother. That brings us after this banquet to where we are right now.
So hear the word of the Lord in Genesis chapter 44.
44 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.
3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”
6 When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
18 Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’
24 “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’
30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”Genesis 44:1-34
The grass withers, the flower fades, and the word of our God endures forever.
For about two years I played little league baseball, and if I had to summarize my career in one word I would say that I was terrible. I had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t my thing, it wasn’t my gift. I was quite bad at it, awful in fact. When I played, and I didn’t always play because when there were too many kids I was you know sort of randomly put with the group of kids who would be on rotation, but when I did play I was put in the right field. In major league baseball, right field is an important position, but at that age not too many kids could hit up to the right field, so that was the safest place to put me on the field.
The worst of all was when I was up to bat, because I couldn’t hit the ball. It was terrible, every time I got up there I would pray that they would walk me so that I would get to go on base and have fun in that way, because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hit the ball. Everyone was watching and I would strike out so many times. Including one time when I struck out again and it was the third out of the inning, so we were switching sides heading to the outfield.
Before I headed out my coach stopped me and said, “Jacob show me how you’re holding this bat.” Now I thought that was odd, I mean this is a simple thing, who doesn’t know how to hold a bat. So I picked up the bat and he said you’re holding that bat wrong when you’re up to bath. Now here was me, and I was very self-conscious about batting, everyone had been watching me strike out and let down the team again, and here my coach tells me something that I have done wrong.
I want to tell you that was not something that I felt bad about, it was quite the opposite. I remember it to this day because in fact that was one of the most encouraging things that happened to me in my very short-lived baseball career. My coach told me a specific thing that I was doing wrong. When I learned something that I was doing wrong, I had some hope that maybe there was a technique that I could do that maybe I could eventually do better.
Well as Christians we talk a lot about what God says is wrong. The Bible calls the things that God says to be wrong sin, and we talk a lot about sin. Let’s be honest when we talk about sin, that can be sensitive, that can be painful, that can be difficult. When we talk about sin, what this story especially reveals to us is that this can also be a source of encouragement, because God doesn’t want to tell us about sin just to rub our noses in it. He’s telling us about our sins so that we can seek his forgiveness that he wants to offer us through faith in Jesus Christ. Then he wants to begin the process of transforming us, again through faith in Jesus Christ, from the inside out.
Our big idea in this passage today then is that God finds our sin, so that we may find Christ.
So three points today,
1. God Finds our Evil
2. God Finds our Guilt
3. So That we May Find Christ
God Finds our Evil
Sn verses 1 through 13,, again this is right after that banquet that Joseph threw for his brothers,, right after Benjamin had been shown a particular kind of favoritism by receiving five times the amount of food that any of the other brothers had received.. WWell after that feast is over and the brothers are preparing to go back to Canaan,, Joseph commands the steward of his house and says fill their bags with food and fill their sacks with their money, return that back to them.
He also says put in one of their sacks the sack of the youngest Benjamin put in his sack my silver cup. Now this was, as we’ll learn in verse 5, Joseph’s drinking cup. He would have used this at the banquet the night before and using this at the banquet. This would have been an opportunity for the Israelites, the sons of Israel, these brothers, to see that cup and then to make plans to potentially steal it. So they would have had an opportunity to steal it, there was a possibility but they hadn’t actually stolen it. Joseph plants the evidence in their bag.
So they leave, but after they haven’t gotten all that far down the road, Joseph sends his steward after them and instructs his steward to ask why have you repaid evil for good? “Why have you repaid evil for good.” Now this is, again, an interesting question, because they didn’t do this. They they didn’t steal this cup, they didn’t repay the kindness that he had shown them in this banquet, that he had thrown for them, by the evil of stealing his cup, they didn’t do that.
Joseph is asking this question to prod them, to test them, to search their hearts, especially for the evil that they had repaid him 20 years earlier when he had done his brothers nothing but good. Joseph had faithfully told of the prophecies that he had received through dreams. Joseph had gone to seek their peace when they were out shepherding, and they repaid evil for good.
So in this story then, it starts a process where this steward starts searching through all of their things until he finds this cup. Now what this scene is doing is it’s giving us a picture of the way that God is searching their hearts to find this long hidden, 20 years buried sin. He finds it among the brothers.
Now this word, found, that he found this cup shows up eight times in this chapter. It’s really important this idea of finding, God is finding out, he’s searching through and finding out their sin, their evil, so that what was hidden is now being found. They’re brought to face their sin.
Now when they discover that they have in fact the cup in their midst, that it’s in the sack of Benjamin, what happens in verses 11 through 13 is that they tear their clothes. They know that they have failed their father, they know that they have failed to protect Benjamin, they know that Benjamin must be taken into Egyptian slavery. The reason the tearing of their clothes is so significant is that 20 years earlier, when they had sold Joseph into slavery and led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by wild animals, Jacob tore his clothes in grief over his son’s death as he believed.
Now, as one commentator, John Salhammer writes, “the grief that they had caused their father has now returned on their own heads, being brought to face fully the sin that they had committed 20 years earlier.” Again, we have to ask the question, why. Why is this happening? Where is this going? What’s God’s purpose in testing them and finding out the sin that has passed away? It’s been hidden, why uncover this old sin?
Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has a daily podcast called “The Briefing.” It looks at a lot of current events and news and deals with that from a Christian worldview. If you don’t listen to it I recommend it, it’s excellent. He deals with a lot of interesting stories and about a month ago actually he drew attention to an opinion piece that was written in the Los Angeles Times. The title of that piece was called, “Forgiveness in an Age of Cancel Culture.” It was written by a university president at a professionally Christian university.
This university president had been teaching about love and forgiveness through the history of the Christian tradition. He was writing about the conversations that he was having with his students. He said what was interesting is the students really quickly understood that forgiveness would be good for the one doing the forgiving. So if you have this bitterness and this grudge that you’re carrying as a burden, it is a very therapeutic thing, you will feel much better if you relieve that burden by forgiving the person who has harmed you. They understood the therapeutic good of forgiveness.
Yet said where they really struggled and couldn’t quite get their minds around is the idea of forgiveness itself being a morally good thing to do. They understood that it was therapeutically good, psychologically, emotionally good for them to forgive. However they didn’t understand why it would be a moral thing to forgive someone who is sinned. The question they kept coming back to was, what about justice? They were intrigued that Christianity taught about grace and forgiveness, but they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it because they were very steeped in our cancel culture.
One of the reasons that we hate to be confronted with sin in our day is that we can’t imagine that God would do anything with us other than to judge us, to condemn us, to cancel us. Our culture simply doesn’t do forgiveness. Our culture does only vicious cancellations for anyone who steps out of line for what the culture is seeking. If God then is not like my baseball coach, if God then is only finding out our sin, pointing out what we have done wrong in order to judge us and to condemn us, then we’re left with very few options. In fact the best option, really the only option, is to do whatever we can to hide our sin, to bury our sin, to deny that our sin is anything that we have actually done.
Now God here is seeking the good of these brothers and he’s seeking our good. God is going to press further on these brothers because there is still more sin to dig up, more sin to uncover, more sin to find.
God Finds our Guilt
This brings us to our second point in verses 14 through 17, that God finds our guilt. So when the brothers return to Joseph, he’s still in his house and they fall before him and Joseph confronts them. He says, “what deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” Now Joseph, he was a Hebrew, he wasn’t practicing pagan divination. He was putting a front up for his brothers to sort of play this role that he had taken, even though Joseph was given the prophetic ability to discern the future from God and that’s probably what he’s talking about here.
Joseph is confronting them and helping them to recognize that they really don’t have a way out of this by pleading their innocence. The evidence has been found in the sack of Benjamin and now they’re dealing with a man who can practice divination, who is able to know and understand what the truth is. So they can’t plead their innocence here, they realize they don’t have any direction they can turn except to throw themselves at this man’s feet for mercy.
So, Judah says in verse 16,
And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.”Genesis 44:16, ESV
Now that’s a very important phrase when Joseph confronted them, he told his steward to say, “why did you repay evil for good?” This word now that Judah says is the word guilt. He doesn’t talk about the evil that they have done, he talks about their guilt. Judah isn’t acknowledging or confessing that he has done this crime, he’s talking about his guilt.
This word here for guilt is an important word, because it’s a word that’s often translated in the Bible as iniquity. Whenever we’re talking about iniquity, we are not usually talking about the individual acts of sin that we commit here, there, and everywhere. We’re talking rather about the underlying sin condition of our hearts. It’s that underlying iniquity, sin condition, of our hearts, it’s out of that all of the various actions of evil, all of the various sins that we commit spring from.
Let me give you an illustration for this, that was a great illustration that I heard from a pastor friend of mine, Brian Carpenter, who was attending here for a little while before he took a call to pastor a church in Ohio. I was listening to one of his sermons this week and he gave a great illustration about how to understand this iniquity in our hearts versus all of the actions of sins that we commit. It resonated with me because he used the illustration of having a cold and I’ve been fighting a cold this week.
Well, how do you know when you have a cold? You know you have a cold because you start to feel these external symptoms. You feel sinus congestion, you feel a runny nose, you feel like you have to sneeze, you have a scratchy throat all the time, all of this is happening, maybe some headaches from all the pressure and your sinuses are building up. When you have a cold you want to treat those symptoms. You don’t like those symptoms and so you might take some cough medicine, some decongestant, some cold medicine of some kind or another.
All of those medicines are really only dealing with those symptoms, they’re sort of masking the symptoms and when that cold medicine wears out, when its effectiveness is over, your symptoms come back with a vengeance because they haven’t gone away. You haven’t dealt with the underlying issue, you have only attacked the symptoms. The real issue is not the symptoms themselves, but the cold virus that’s flowing through your bloodstream. The cold medicine that you take can’t deal with that virus, it continues to float on through your body to attack your sinuses and your throat and your nose and everything else until your body has successfully processed that virus out of your body.
Well understand when Judah acknowledges that God has found out the guilt of your servants, the iniquity of your servants, he’s saying we didn’t necessarily do this but God has found out, he’s uncovered this virus of iniquity that is deep in our hearts. It’s the virus that led us to sin 20 years ago against our brother Joseph, and it still is in our hearts today.
So, Judah is acknowledging this, he insists that all the brothers must be Joseph’s slaves. He goes on and says, “behold we are my Lord’s servants both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.”
Joseph in verse 17 says,
But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Genesis 44:17, ESV
Now this is the very last test that Joseph is going to pose to his brothers. In this test, what Joseph is testing is to see how much sway, how deep that virus of iniquity of guilt is still in their bloodstream. He’s giving them an opportunity to betray and abandon Benjamin in exactly the same way that they betrayed and abandoned Joseph so many years earlier. They could simply walk away and he would be left in captivity in Egypt and no one would be the wiser. They could go back to their father and they could say we tried our best, but this crazy Egyptian ruler would not hear of it, he would only take Benjamin and he forced the rest of us to go home. In fact Jacob had resigned himself that this was a possibility back in Genesis 43:14, he said, “if I am bereaved of my children I am bereaved.”
So, Jacob had resigned himself to this. They have this opportunity, and remember the night before just as Jacob had shown favoritism to Benjamin, Joseph showed favoritism to Benjamin by giving Benjamin five times the amount of food. Would that inflame their jealousy and their pride to walk away from their brother and leave him in Egypt? That’s the test.
God is after more than just dealing with individual symptoms, God is applying this test to these brothers to see how deep this iniquity is still in their hearts. Again, why does God do this? Why does he not only uncover our sinful past, why does he also uncover the raging iniquity of our heart? Is it to torment us? Is it to rub our noses in it? Is it to leave us wallowing in shame? The answer is no. God does this so that we may find Christ.
So That We May Find Christ
This brings us to the third section, verses 18 to 34, essentially the second half of this chapter, where we read how Judah stood up and pleaded his family’s case. Now when Judah speaks he does two things. The first thing as he speaks, is he acknowledges completely honestly the favoritism that Jacob showed both Joseph and Benjamin and also that Jacob showed his Joseph and Benjamin’s mother Rachel.
Now for good or for evil, and mainly for evil, Jacob did not have one wife, he had four wives. Yet Jacob preferred his wife Rachel, and preferred the sons that came from Rachel over his other wives and over the sons that came from these other wives. Judah acknowledges this. Judah was the son of Leah, and so he felt the sting of this favoritism. This is what caused him, in part, to hate his brother Joseph originally. Now he speaks about it candidly.
He says in verse 20, his father loves him Benjamin. If he should leave his father, verse 22, his father would die. Then in verse 27 Judah quotes his father Jacob in saying this, “you know that my wife.” Well again he didn’t just have one wife, he had four wives. Jacob is saying, you know that my wife, the only wife I really care about, you know that she bore me two sons. He didn’t just have two sons, he had 12 sons. What about Leah, what about Bilhah, what about Zilpah, what about the 10 other sons? Well Judah acknowledges the favoritism.
The second thing Judah does is remarkable, he nevertheless in spite of his favoritism, pleads to be a substitute for Benjamin for Benjamin’s sake and for his father’s sake. He doesn’t cite this favoritism as a justification for leaving Benjamin in Egypt, you want him fine, have him, he’s been nothing but trouble to me. Maybe now Dad will pay more attention to us. Judah doesn’t do that instead Judah pleads to fulfill the pledge he had made to his father, to be a pledge of safety toward Benjamin, verse 32.
Now we talked about this last week, and a few weeks ago before that, but this word pledge is the same word that showed up in Genesis 38. This was the pledge, or the down payment, word that Judah had given as a down payment for the services of Tamar as a prostitute until he could pay for those services by sending her a goat. Well now this word pledge, Judah is not using any lustful, greedy, selfish way, he is using in a self-sacrificial way. He is saying that he is the pledge to guarantee Benjamin’s safety. Why does he do this?
Well he summarizes his intention in verse 34, where we see the final instance of where the word is found. He says,
34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”Genesis 44:34
God has found out his sin, but he does not want evil to find his father. Judah is no longer the self-serving, greedy, lust driven scoundrel that he was at the very beginning of this story. Suddenly out of nowhere, seemingly, he’s loving, he’s faithful, he is honest, he is noble. There’s been an extraordinary transformation in Judah’s life. Here we are seeing finally the way in which Judah will foreshadow the self-sacrificial love of his most illustrious descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Back in Genesis 37, when he was proposing let’s sell Joseph into slavery, and in 38 when he was hiring a prostitute, there was no resemblance to Jesus Christ. You wouldn’t look at the two and say that one is the great-great-great-grandfather of this one. Now we can hardly avoid the comparison. We can’t see anyone but Jesus, as Judah stands in the place of his brother who has been found guilty of this crime. To take his place so that the beloved son can be reconciled to his father. Judah has finally lived up to the standard of his descendant after him, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well from this story I have only one application. It’s this, if God has found out your sin find Christ by faith. This morning we’ve been studying the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers. As we’ve done so, is the Lord surfacing, uncovering, finding out in your heart your evil deeds? Have these sins from your past come to mind? As we’ve talked about the underlying guilty heart condition of Joseph’s brothers, is the Lord exposing the sinfulness of your heart? Have you begun to see how deeply this virus of your iniquity goes?
Well the world, you may know, has a thousand strategies to try to deal with this condition of sin that we have. Most of all the world coaches us to seek to reject that we should feel guilty for our sin. The world is always trying to break the bonds of God’s morality. The world says stop apologizing, be proud, forgive yourself, discover your truth. At the end of the day, all of creation bears witness to an unchangeable truth that God alone is God, He always has been and He always will be. You, along with the whole human race, stand guilty before him.
Alternately the world tries to help us to cover over our guilt and our shame with good deeds. Be a good person, support the right social causes, vote for the right politicians. The world promises that you can be righteous by standing with the world and with its values. However, God who sits in the heavens, laughs at this. The Lord holds them in derision. One day God promises that he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” The Bible declares that God alone is righteous. You and I, along with the whole human race, stand condemned before him.
So, what do we do then to relieve our guilt? Well understand God gives us guilt and shame and God speaks to us out about our sin to give us warning bells, to tell us that there is a problem between us and God. The guilt and the shame that we feel is not the end goal, it’s the means to the end goal that God is leading us to. God is finding out, uncovering, exposing our sin and our iniquity in order to lead us to find Christ.
The reason you feel awful, the reason the word of God condemns you when you hear it even though you have tried everything you can to manage, and to suppress the symptoms of sin, the actions of sin, to manage your behavior, all of that. The reason you still feel awful is that you can’t atone for your sin. You can’t deal with the underlying virus of iniquity in your life. You cannot make for yourself a righteousness that will stand intact before Almighty God. He is the judge of Heaven and earth, the one who is coming to judge the living and the dead.
Nevertheless the Bible tells us that God, out of nothing more than his free grace, mercy, and love, has provided a substitute for you. The gospel gives us a different solution, don’t bury it, don’t cover it over, God has provided a substitute. He has you dead to righteousness because of your sin, he caught you red-handed with what you have stolen, but nevertheless God offers you his own son as a pledge for your safety. The Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God from all eternity past, who took upon himself a human nature, who was born as the direct descendant of this man Judah, who stands up as a pledge for his brother Benjamin.
Jesus Christ has insisted that he should be condemned instead of you. This doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about justice, God loves justice. God doesn’t do away with justice at all, but rather God meets his justice by punishing his son fully in your place as your substitute rather than you. God does this so that you may be reconciled to your Father in Heaven, just as Benjamin will now be reconciled to his father Jacob.
This isn’t justice, it’s grace. This isn’t to cancel you, this is to save you. This isn’t to condemn you, but it is to help you grow. You don’t deserve it, you don’t earn it, but God offers it to you freely. He offers it to evil, guilty sinners who acknowledge and confess their sin, who turn from their sin in repentance, in sorrow, and who instead seek Jesus Christ for salvation by faith.
So I’m going to ask you, have you trusted in Christ this morning? He is right now, by his word, finding out, exposing, uncovering your sin to you because he wants you to find salvation in Christ. I want to plead with you, don’t delay this, don’t keep trying to hide your sin, don’t dig your heels in. Pray to Christ right now, acknowledge your sin to him, confess it before him, ask him to forgive you in your heart right now where you sit. Ask him to transform you from the inside out. Our Lord Jesus Christ promises us in John 6:37 he says,
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 6:37, ESV
This morning then the question is will you respond to him, will you come to him, will this be the morning that you find Christ by faith?
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that we would find Christ by faith. Whether it’s for the first time or the thousandth time, that you would lead us to repent of our sins and to trust in your son our savior Jesus Christ. We pray that we would have forgiveness and that we would have freedom and righteousness, and that you would begin to transform us from the inside out so that we would grow in the way that Judah has as he has looked to you in faith. We pray also that we would be forgiven for the sake of Christ our savior. In his name we pray. Amen.