Where’s Jesus? Joseph’s beg for Benjamin’s Life (Genesis 44)

The Joseph stories are fascinating looks into human relationships and the emotional responses that are born out of these interactions. But even more than that, they place before us a picture of God and Christ.  This week, Joseph’s brothers return after being “framed”for theft.  They return to plead for the life of their youngest brother Benjamin.  As readers and Christians, we must ask, “Where is Jesus in a story like this?”

Most often we read the story and take offense at the way Joseph treats his brothers – framing Benjamin for a crime he didn’t commit, putting the brothers through extreme emotional hardship, and breathing into them the “fear of God.”  But that kind of reading assumes that justice is situational.  What I mean is this:  Many westerners believe that guilt is only attributable to specific actions. One cannot be found guilty for a crime they didn’t commit, even if in their past, they were guilty of a crime which hasn’t come to light yet.  We would assume that prosecuting someone and calling them guilty when in fact they are innocent of that specific crime would be a perversion of justice and so we chafe at a story like this one in the Bible.  It is unjust.  It isn’t fair. 

But that is to read our cultural assumptions into the story instead of reading God’s assumptions and God’s story through the lives of the characters.  So again, we must ask, “Where is Jesus?”  Let us recall a few specific Scriptures in order to answer this questions.  The Scriptures record that one day everyone will stand before the throne of God and be judged for their life.  All that was hidden will be made known, all sin will be revealed and all justice will be served.  Consider these passages:

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. (Luke 12:2, cp. Luke 8:17)

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:16)

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)

 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12)

If this is true, and it is.  Then, we are all guilty, just as Joseph’s brothers were guilty of lying to there father, failing to love their brother, stealing a man’s life and who knows how many other sins.  Guilt abounds in our life, just as in theirs.  And so the punishment that Joseph meted out on them was right and just, they were guilty, guilty of far more than just being accused of theft. And so are we.  Justice will come to light, as it did in this story.  Sin is revealed and confessed as the brothers cry out, 

“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied.  “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence?  God has uncovered your servants guilt.”(Genesis 44:16)

These brothers are like us, who one day will stand before the throne of God and cry out in the words of Isaiah, 

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

We will not be able to hide our sin any longer.  But praise God; there is a solution to proving our innocence.  For Revelation 20:15 goes on to say, 

“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” 

Our innocence is proved by being united to the one who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  Our innocence comes not from proving that we haven’t done anything wrong, we have; rather our innocence comes from having died to ourselves and been united to Christ. In this way, we are allowed to appropriate Christ’s innocence as our own.  

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (HEbrews 7:26 ESV)

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV)

In fact, unless God declares us innocent, through Christ, we are guilty. David understood this and cried it out in Psalm 4:1 saying,

Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (NLT)

And so we are left much like Joseph’s brothers, looking for a declaration of innocence, crying out for mercy when in fact we are guilty of great sins in our life, but praise be to God, there is salvation.  So yet again, Jesus is in this story, revealing past sin and hearing our cries for relief, and as we shall see in Genesis 45, that relief comes in the form of forgiveness and salvation.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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