God’s unmerited kindness should lead us toward repentance. Some of us, however, believe that we must earn everything we receive, so we struggle to trust that salvation is truly free. Drawing from the story of Joseph and his estranged family, Alistair Begg helps us see that God manifests His loving generosity to us so that we might come to repentance and faith. Because He knows and cares about the details of our lives, we can trust our sovereign Lord.
“Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful mind[s], in purer lives, thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.” We pray that, as we turn to the pages of your Word, and as we seek to wrap up what we began this morning, that you will speak simply and tellingly into our lives. For we ask it in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
Now, tonight, before we share in the baptisms, I invite you to turn with me again to Genesis 42, and we will endeavor to complete what we began this morning. I knew as I studied this week that there was an even chance that, once I launched into this matter of repentance, that I would never return properly to the story, and so I’m glad this evening at least to be able to bring a measure of closure to it. And if you were present this morning, you will recall that we said that Joseph, by the way in which he ordered the circumstances of his brothers vis-à-vis the placing of one of them in jail, the sending of the others back with the news of his desire to see Benjamin, and so on, had put his brothers in dire straits. And one of his concerns was to determine whether they were genuinely repentant for what had happened previously in their lives, or whether what had taken place in their experience of these recent days was simply a momentary emotional surge which would be passed over as soon as the dramatic circumstances had gone—in much the same way as you hear people shouting out when your airplane on which you’re traveling hits unbelievable turbulence, and you hear, all of a sudden on this DC-10, all these people calling out on the Lord whom you never knew believed in him at all. And then when the pilot comes on and says, “You know, we seem to be through it, and all is fine, and we’re actually now able to begin our descent as planned,” suddenly the moment of interest and remorse is past, and everyone is back to business as usual.
And we ought not to be too quick to condemn that, because as we noticed this morning, repentance is not simply something that begins our Christian experience, but genuine biblical repentance is to be the hallmark of all that Christian living really means, insofar as—as is pictured in baptism here this evening—there is that putting off of the old, and there is that putting on of the new; there is the dying to our old way of life, and there is rising to new life in Christ. Well, clearly, that is pictured here in this baptismal pool, but it is not performed in the baptismal pool. And if it were, then simply as a result of having this done to us, these people would now be ushered into a whole new realm of living whereby they would be free from the inclinations to sin, and all would be well en route to heaven. No, they’re going to find out very quickly that their desire to be obedient to the Lord Jesus may actually introduce them to more rigorous battles than any that they’ve experienced to this point, and they will become even more aware of the need to engage in genuine biblical repentance.
Now, we said also this morning that one of the ways in which they had been made aware of their condition was as a result of seeing in the circumstances which Joseph had created for them—in accusing them of being spies and imprisoning them—seeing in those circumstances something of a mirror image of the injustice that they had done to their younger brother, and all the time not even noticing or understanding that it was their younger brother who was putting them through this process. Secondly, we noted that they were brought to this also by the display of generosity which Joseph was to manifest to them.
And what I’d like to do is just take three words to draw this together tonight: the first word is generosity, the second word is perplexity, and the third and final word is obstinacy. And I’m not going to spend a long time on any of them as we anticipate sharing in the baptism.
But you will notice at the juncture of verse 25 and 26 that “Joseph [had given] orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey.” In other words, he didn’t simply give them that which they requested, but he gave them more than that, and also he gave them their money back besides. And it was a gesture of love, and it was a loving gesture—a kind expression of his goodness. And it certainly, I think you will agree, was not what they deserved. As he reflected upon all that these characters had done to him, all the offense that they had caused him, all the disinterest that they had showed in him, the fact that they had maligned him and were accountable for his blood, surely the last thing that they deserved was any help at all. It would have been fine if he’d taken all their money and filled their sack up with cotton wool and sent them back. They would have deserved it. But he manifests this unbelievable generosity.
And the amazing thing is that here we have a wonderful picture in the Old Testament of the way in which the Lord Jesus Christ treats us—those who have offended against him, those who have disregarded him, paid scant interest to his life and all that he has done for us. And what we deserve is certainly judgment, and what we receive is his unmerited and unfettered generosity. And when Paul considers this in Romans chapter 2, he writes of it in a very wonderful way. There’s just one verse I want to read for you—you can turn to it if you choose—but in Romans 2:4, Paul, in addressing the wonder of God’s generosity, says this to his readers. Romans 2:4: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward[s] repentance?” “God’s kindness leads you toward[s] repentance.” And so it was that in the kindness of Joseph towards these characters there was this wonderful display that caused them to respond with perplexity.
Isn’t that what you find there in verse 28? “My silver has been returned,” says the fellow at the truck stop, opening his sack to feed his donkey—I should say, “at the donkey stop”—and as he stops to feed his donkey and opens up his sack, he is absolutely overwhelmed to realize that his money has been returned to him. The silver is in the sack. Now, clearly, as the story unfolds, nobody bothers to look in their sack to see if the same is true of them. That doesn’t come until later on. They are so overwhelmed by this that they are thoroughly perplexed. And indeed, Moses tells us that “their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and [they] said, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” They were immediately suspicious, and the thing that made them suspicious was generosity. Because they knew that they didn’t deserve generosity. And that is the same, you see, loved ones, when we read the story of the gospel and we discover how much we have offended against Almighty God, and then we discover the truth of God’s grace—that he lavishes his love and his generosity upon us—it ought to be a cause for perplexity. They found in this something ominous, and something suspicious and mysterious—an act of God—and it made them afraid.
It’s a similar thing that you discover throughout the Gospels when Jesus shows himself strong before his disciples. I think of just one situation that comes to mind: You remember when the fellows are fishing, and they’re catching nothing at all, and Jesus appears to them, and he says, “You know, if you would put your nets down on the other side, then you will be quite amazed at the catch that you take.” And although they had done everything that they knew as fishermen to do, out of an act of obedience they did exactly what Jesus told them. And when they began to pull the catch of fish onboard their vessel, the vessel began to be submerged in the water because the catch was so unbelievably large. And what was the response of the disciples? It was to say, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” It was to fall down on their knees in wonder, and in perplexity that they, who thought they could go their own way and do their own thing and knew everything about everything, would be so overwhelmed by the generosity of the Lord Jesus as he revealed his kindness to them.
It is an interesting thing that sheer, unmerited generosity on the part of Joseph to his brothers they found frankly perplexing. But if you think of it this evening, so do contemporary men and women. For isn’t this the country where you always tell me, “There are no free lunches”? Isn’t this the place where I’m always told, “You only get what you pay for”? Isn’t this the environment in which we have cultivated the idea that it is only as a result of blood, sweat, and tears that there will be anything for anyone as it results from our honest endeavors? And so we import all of that into our understanding of religion. And that’s why a religion of works is very appealing to contemporary men and women, because it says there are so many things you need to do: “You need to do this and this and this and this.” And of course, people who have those Day-Timers and those lists and like to tick them off are relatively happy to be given a list—a religious list—that they can put down and tick off.
But what they find absolutely perplexing is unmerited favor and generosity. What contemporary men and women cannot cope with is the idea that in the death of Jesus upon the cross God did something for us not on account of how well we were doing, not because of the country in which we were born, not because of the way we had entered into religious activities and pulled up our socks and endeavored to make a go of it, but he did it only on account of his unfettered kindness and generosity. And the reaction of people is, “There’s gotta be something wrong with this. For there is nothing free, and anything that is free is probably not free, and we are to stay far from it if we can.”
That’s why I read from Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” Sin pays wages, and the wages that you draw, at the end and in the middle and at the beginning, is death: ultimately physical death, spiritual death, eternal death. For eternal death is physical death plus spiritual death equals eternal death. Okay? We are spiritually dead; unless we are made alive while we are physically alive, then we will remain spiritually dead to the point where we are physically dead. And if you die spiritually dead, the Bible says you remain eternally dead. And furthermore, it says, there’s not a cotton-pickin’ thing you can do to fix it. That’s a real problem—unless, of course, someone is to come and put into the sack of your life unmerited and unfettered generosity. Do you “show contempt” for the kindness and goodness and generosity of God by remaining in your unbelief? Do you not realize that “his kindness is to lead you to repentance”?
As I was thinking about this in preparation for today, two incidents came back to my mind from last week. They both actually happened consecutively, and I never thought about them at the time, but I thought about it towards the end of the week. One situation took place in Bloomingdale’s department store in Chicago, where I was along with my wife. And the lady there was pressing upon us the idea that if we would spend X amount of dollars, then we would get this wonderful “free gift.” Now, I’m not Scottish for nothing, and I’s saying to myself, “Wait a minute, now. At the moment, I have my money in my pocket, I don’t want any of your stuff. But what you’re suggesting to me is that there is a ‘free gift’ if I buy it. Somehow or another, this doesn’t compute. I get a ‘free gift’ if I buy it.” “Oh no, no, no, you don’t buy it; you buy this, and this is free.” Aha! It’s now suddenly starting to dawn on me, you know; it’s really making sense. So the idea that you purchase a free gift—and we purchased less than the requisite amount, so we didn’t get the plastic bag with the name on it that you could get if you paid more than you really wanted to pay when you went in in the first place. It’s a very interesting marketing idea. It was Estée Lauder who began it, and they have passed it on to everybody else since, and people are buying all kinds of things for these plastic bags that you can find in front hall closets. But anyway … so the notion was, if you’ll spend a certain amount of money, you’ll get a free gift. So I concluded, “This is not a free gift.”
As we walked out of Bloomingdale’s and continued down the mall, I came upon a scene that intrigued me. There was what turned out to be, I believe, a granny with her granddaughter. The granddaughter had a change purse which she had tipped out on the table in the mall, and she had all of her pennies and dimes and nickels, and she was moving them all around on the table, and she was putting them in stacks. “How much do you have?” I asked her. She told me. It was an uneven number. And so I went in my pocket, and I got out some money, and I said to her, “Here, honey. If you put that with it, it rounds it up to X.” And she looked at me, and she said, “You’re just gonna give this to me?” I said, “Yeah, I just want to give it to you. I saw you counting your money, and I just want to give it to you.” Now, fortunately my wife was with me; otherwise the granny would be calling for the security—a strange man in mall giving away money. But the fact of the matter was, I never knew the girl, I didn’t know who she was from a hole in the ground, but I just thought, “Hey, I’d like to make up her change purse for her. I’d like to give her something.” That’s fine. It was absolutely unmerited, but it was limited in its generosity. I did not give according to my substance; I gave out of my substance. But she was thrilled.
And somewhere in the midst of that, there’s a lesson for us. So many people have got the idea that genuine Christianity has to do with paying a little bit yourself, and then you get this free thing, provided you’ve paid as much as you can. It’s not that at all. It is that we who do not deserve anything become the recipients of his unbelievable generosity.
So Joseph treats his brothers with generosity, and the response was perplexity. They were further perplexed when the father got into the picture in verse 35: “As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! [And] when they and their father saw the money pouches, they were absolutely frightened”—“frightened.”
I’ve said enough about that. Let me just come to this last word: obstinacy. “Then Reuben said to his father, ‘You know, we can come to an arrangement here. Both my boys, I’ll give them to you as surety, if you’ll only let Benjamin come back with us.’” And here we have the obstinacy in verse 38: “But Jacob said, ‘My son will not go down there with you.’” Joyce Baldwin, a wonderful Old Testament commentator who died in the last twelve months, says of this, “Jacob in his old age bears all the characteristics we are accustomed to associate with the very elderly. He dominates the family, sees issues in stark terms of black and white and makes assertions which express his own passionate feelings; but everyone knows that he will have to go back on what he has so categorically stated.” And, of course, that’s exactly what happens, because as you look at the opening verses of chapter 43, “The famine was still severe in the land. [And] when they[‘d] eaten all the grain they[’d] brought from Egypt, their father said to them, ‘Go back and buy us a little more food.’”
So we find that his obstinacy was eventually tempered by necessity. And you can see that the old Jacob is still in there. In verse 6, look at the question: he says, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?” What’s that got to do with anything at this point? They gave a fairly decent explanation of that. It’s irrelevant; the question is absolutely irrelevant. But his argument enabled him to project onto someone else the sense of disquiet that he had. He still likes to pass the buck, even in his old age.
Judah, his son, is rather tactful, in contrast, when in verse 10 he, having guaranteed the safety of Benjamin by means of saying that he will bear the responsibility all of his life—“I will bear the blame before you all of my life”—and then in verse 10 he says, “As it is, if we[’d] not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.” (You know, “Not looking at anyone in particular, Dad.”)
And then, verse 11 you see the hint of the old Jacob again. You remember in chapter 32 where he goes to meet his brother Esau, and how he came up with that elaborate plan of he would send one group forward with donkeys and sheep and stuff, and then he’d send a little group, and then another bunch of stuff, and then another little group, and he manufactured it in such a way that the hope would be that when Esau saw all of the stuff it would put him in a nice happy frame of mind, and then they wouldn’t get in a royal war. There seems still to be a wee bit of that left in Jacob. He says to them in verse 11, “[Well], if it must be, then do this,” and here he goes: “Put some of the best products of the land in your bags … take them down to the man as a gift [to the man].” Oh, little did he know. I love this: “Take them down to the man as a gift—[give him] a little balm … a little honey, some spices … myrrh … pistachio nuts and almonds … silver.… Return the silver that was put back [in] the mouths of your sacks,” and so on. And he prays for them in verse 14: “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back [to] you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
Well, little did they know what they were heading for. They were heading for a reunion, which they thought was with Simeon. They didn’t realize that they were heading for a reunion with Joseph himself. This “man” to whom they were returning was none other than the brother that they had cast into the abject deprivation of the pit all these years before. And the story continues from there.
Let me take you back, in conclusion, to the phrase that we dealt with in passing at the end of verse 28: “What is this that God has done to us?” Did any of you see the dramatic and moving tribute to the Russian ice skater during the week? Did you see that program on television? Some of you did, I think. I found it to be profoundly moving. Interesting how many people from the Eastern Bloc mentioned God—from East Germany, from Romania, from the former Soviet Union. But the question that was asked explicitly and implicitly throughout the whole event was 42:28: “What is this that God has done to us?” And again, implicit in the question is, “He deserved better than this, and we deserve better than this.” And what the story of Joseph tells us is that the answer to that question is and always will be that God has overruled every detail of all of our lives in conformity with the purpose of his will. And even though the expression of the heart of Jacob is, in verse 36, “Everything is against me!” the fact of the matter is that “[when] God is for us, who can be against us?” Tonight, as I say in a group like this, it would be impossible for any one individual to gather up all of the comings and goings, all of the hopes and the fears, all of the designs and desires, all of the heartache and the pain. But God knows, and God cares, and God is sovereignly in charge. We can trust him, you know.
Only once have I quoted this poem. I love it so much, and it’s taken me everything not to quote it again since the first time I did, but this is as far as I can go without repeating it, and so I will repeat it, and this is where I end:
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors.
He worketh steadily.
Oft’times he weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper,
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned.
And in that kind of genuine submission we can face the future with joyful hope.
Let us bow in prayer:
O Lord our God, we pray that these studies in the life of Joseph may be food for our souls, light on our paths. We pray that we may be a help and never a hindrance to one another when it comes to applying these things.
We recognize the immensity of your generosity towards us. We’re frankly perplexed by it, for we’re so programmed to believe that we have to earn everything that we get, and we can’t cope with a salvation that is free. And some of us find a point of identification in the obstinacy of Jacob, for in response to God’s kindness we remain obstinate in unbelief, not realizing that his loving generosity has been manifested to us in order that we might come to repentance and to faith. Bless now the remaining moments of our worship as we seek you, as we hear those testify to their faith in you. For Christ’s sake, we ask it. Amen.
 John Greenleaf Whittier, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” (1872).
 Luke 5:4–8 (paraphrased).
 Romans 2:4 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 42:37 (paraphrased).
 Joyce G. Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12–50 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 184.
 Genesis 43:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 43:9 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 8:31 (paraphrased).
 Author unknown, “The Tapestry Poem” (paraphrased).