Community Group Study “Genesis: A Severe Grace”
Read Genesis 42:1-38
The story of Joseph will shift over the next few chapters to bring to light the nature of reconciliation in this family of God. We will see God use a global crisis, a famine, to bring the brothers down to Egypt. God will use Joseph to save them from this crisis and from their rebellious and hardened hearts towards the Lord.
The famine that God revealed to Pharaoh has arrived (Genesis 41:25). Egypt prepared for it and is ready after 7 years of plenty and Joseph’s plan to store up 1/5th of the harvest during each of those years. However the rest of the world is unprepared and the family of God is in another desperate situation causing them to seek help in Egypt. Jacob sends 10 of his sons down to find grain in Egypt, purposefully keeping behind Benjamin, his youngest son and the the last child of his favorite wife Rachel.
The brothers unknowingly find themselves in front of Joseph who is the governor of Egypt (Genesis 42:6). Twenty years have passed since Joseph last saw his brothers. The brothers do not recognize Joseph, having already written off Joseph as either still in slavery or dead (Genesis 42:13). Who could imagine that Joseph would find himself in a position of ultimate power in a foreign land ready to work to generously save the lives of his brothers? Joseph recognized them and he connected this moment to the beginning of his story. Here he is with his brothers bowing down before him, just like God showed him in those dreams in Genesis 37. This moment matches the first of those two dreams (Genesis 37:6-7), but God had given him a second dream one where all of his brothers and his father would be bowing down before him (Genesis 37:9-10). Joseph is seeing the hand of God in the events of his life, and he thinks quickly to put his brothers through a test and to move to get his family down to Egypt.
This series of testing will put the brothers through a severe grace. They will be confronted throughout Genesis 42-45 with fear, hardship and a challenge to their character. Joseph’s goal is redemptive in nature, he will show throughout the story a desires reconciliation and forgiveness, and God uses it to bring about a change in the people of God through his grace.
Joseph’s first test is around their loyalty. He begins by accusing them of being spies, desiring to see the weakness of Egypt. The brothers object, but are not in a position to do much about it. They reveal that they have two other brothers, one who was left behind and one who was “no more”. Joseph took them and locked them up in prison saying they can send one brother back home to bring Benjamin and prove they are trustworthy. During this time Rueben, not knowing it was Joseph, reveals that this must be divine punishment for what they did to Joseph. In these gut wrenching verses we see just how terrible of an ordeal it was for Joseph to go through as he “begged for his life” before being sold into slavery (Genesis 42:21). Joseph leaves them in jail for three days and then reverses his plan and sends them all back except for Simeon. He likely kept Simeon back because he was the eldest apart from Reuben and Reuben had been the only brother who acted to save him back in Genesis 38 and, so far, the one who expressed a hint of remorse in the story (Genesis 42:22). The question is, “will they come back for Simeon or will they abandon him like they abandoned Joseph?” In the past they sold out one brother, whom they hated, for a chance to profit. Will they do the same and leave one brother behind or will they be loyal to their promise and loyal to their imprisoned brother Simeon?
The brothers go home to Jacob with their food, and unbeknownst to them, bags full of money that Joseph returned. This action gives us a glimpse into a kindness in Joseph, even though he is being harsh with them he shows mercy and grace. He wept when Reuben told the story of how they had sold Joseph into slavery and he replenished their money as they headed home. Yet, this produced fear in them and Jacob is hesitant to comply with Joseph’s request to send Benjamin back to Egypt with the brothers. It will not be until they run out of food again that they are forced to go back.
There are multiple theological themes we see in this chapter. First, Joseph received a glimpse of God’s providence in the events of his life when he connected his dream to his brothers bowing down to him. God has a plan he is unfolding in and through this family that plan is coming together at this point in time. God is going to reconcile this family and bring them down to Egypt where they will grow into a numerous people. Second, God uses events in the lives of his people to produce Christ-like character in them. Joseph is raised up from the pit and established to the right hand of the king, but it happened through suffering and hardship. How will Joseph use his power, will it be to crush his enemies or to redeem them? We see God uses the harsh events of Joseph’s testing to reveal the heart of these brothers, grow their character and reconcile this family. Who would these brothers become without this trail of tests? Can you imagine the kind of person Joseph would have been if he remained the spoiled and favorite kid in his Father’s house without having suffered all that he did? God is wise and faithful to use these events to mold and shape his people. What kind of severe things has God taken you through to form Christ-like character in you? What is God doing even in this moment to accomplish his good purposes (Romans 8:29)? These are all questions that the Joseph story will challenge us with as we continue to move forward to see God’s beauty and grace in the reconciliation of this family.
Main idea: Reconciliation is a difficult task. It is greater than forgiveness alone. As we work through the Joseph story, we get a hint that Joseph has forgiven the brothers but now is on the task of reconciliation. God will author this reconciliation through a series of tests and it becomes a severe grace; a difficult task that is designed to bring them together. Followers of Jesus have experienced similar circumstances in being reconciled with God. God brings people into relationship with him through a “severe grace”.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 42:1-25
In what ways does Joseph treat his brothers harshly? Is this expected or surprising? How does Genesis 42:9 inform what’s going on for us here?
The brothers go through a taste of what Joseph experienced over his 13 years in slavery and prison. We see they experienced a lot of fear (Genesis 42:28, 35). Likewise they are held in prison for three days (Genesis 42:18). Joseph also speaks roughly to them, holds back information and takes them through a test. Why would God take them through this kind of experience? Reuben gives us a good idea of what they were thinking, but he takes it as a retribution and almost karmic (bad things happen to bad people) interpretation. Does God have a bigger goal in mind for them than what Rueben thinks?
Joseph takes them through a test of their truthfulness and loyalty. He requires that they verify their story by bringing their youngest brother to Egypt. To ensure they have to come back he requires they leave behind Simeon. The test is, will they come back or will they leave him? Describe how the brothers treated Joseph in Genesis 37 and how does this test point to some level of change in them?
Reconciliation language is used when the Bible describes what God has done for his people through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. What kind of “cost” did it require of God for our reconciliation? What kind of response to the people of God need to take? Read Romans 3:23-26 and 5:10 and answer those questions as a group.
The sermon emphasized that God doesn’t require a payment for reconciliation but gives grace at the cost to himself. How can followers of Jesus model this action of God’s grace in their day to day lives?