I was reading through a number of the record I have made from my personal bible studies this morning when I had a compelling urge to share this particular on the second of January, this year.
I happened upon Genesis 42, the story of Joseph’s first encounter with his brother in the land of Egypt during the famine. I saw for the first time that saying Joseph’s brother are wicked people who were simply envious of Joseph, and ending it at that is an hasty conclusion. I saw the traces of a good heart in them:
” ‘Joseph recognized them instantly, but pretended he didn’t. ‘Where are you from?’ he demanded roughly. ‘From the land of Canaan,’ they replied. ‘We have come to buy grain.’
Then Joseph remembered the dreams of long ago! But he said to them, ‘You are spies. You have come to see how destitute the famine has made our land.’
‘No, no,’ they exclaimed. ‘We have come to buy food.
We are all brothers, and honest men, sir! We are not spies!”
‘Yes, you are,’ he insisted. ‘You have come to see how weak we are.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘there are twelve of us brothers, and our father is in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is there with our father, and one of our brothers is dead.”(Genesis 42:7-13, TLB)
“Speaking among themselves, they said, ‘This has all happened because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his terror and anguish and heard his pleadings, but we wouldn’t listen.’
‘Didn’t I tell you not to do it?’ Reuben asked. ‘But you wouldn’t listen. And now we are going to die because we murdered him.” (Genesis 42:21-22, TLB)
“But when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get some grain to feed the donkeys, there was his money in the mouth of his sack!
‘Look,’ he exclaimed to his brothers, ‘my money is here in my sack.’ They were filled with terror. Trembling, they exclaimed to each other, ‘What is this that God has done to us?‘ (Genesis 42: 27-28, TLB)
“And as they emptied out the sacks, there at the top of each was the money paid for the grain! Terror gripped them, as it did their father.” (Genesis 42:35, TLB)
This is really interesting. All along I have always thought this people had a stone-cold wicked heart and had no chance of having the tender heart that was seen in some of the Old Testament saints, but just this chapter proved me wrong. Some of my evidences of their tender heart include:
- A really wicked person is not as plain as they were when they told Joseph the story of their family (a father and twelve sons), which he really didn’t ask them. This may seem like a not-so-strong point, since it looked like their way out of being thought of as spies.
- They attached their misfortune at Egypt with their wickedness to Joseph right at that moment! This is something that had happened at least ten years before (an average one year of his stay in Potiphar house and his imprisonment before meeting the King’s baker and wine taster + the two years of the wine taster forgetting him in prison + the first seven years of plentiful harvest). Really wicked men don’t even know the sore of their wickedness after their conscience has been seared nor wear it like a sore thumb everywhere they go like this brothers did.
- Reuben said and believed they murdered Joseph. Even though they eventually sold him, as against their initial plan of killing him, and may be quite aware that he is simply lost and not dead, yet their tender hearts could not bear to assuage their guilt. It is only a good-hearted person that makes his guilt worse and not better. It is only good-hearted people that is able to see that you don’t excuse yourself with “He is just missing, not dead.”
- Please help me. Who sees his money in his purchased good and become filled with terror, especially when you are certain you really paid and didn’t swindle?! Who sees that kind of thing and becomes afraid that God may be trying to do something bad to him? Someone with a heavily guilty conscience! Someone whose one act of evil has made him realise how deserving of all sorts of condemnation he is. Wicked people are never like that.
- Even at the scene with Joseph in Dothan (Genesis 37), Reuben couldn’t bear killing the boy and was going to take him back home even if he was going to do that alone. So did Judah, who suggested that they sold him instead of letting him die.
What’s the point of all of these?
Simply put, it is to show that even a good-hearted/righteous person can be consumed with envy, and when consumed with envy, can murder. The Apostles warned so many times of envy, because it is the root every other vices. James said:
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:16, KJV)
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)
Looking through the story of the relation between Joseph, his father, and his brothers in Genesis 27, one would find the very reasons why they became envious.
- Their father treated Joseph specially, giving him things he didn’t give others.
- Joseph had all-too-clear dreams that he was going to reign over the family.
- Joseph himself was quite pompous about both the affection and dreams.
There is the level of envying sinners in Proverbs 23:17 and one can even deal with that with a confidence in the fact that we are both blessed in this world and in the world to come, as believers unlike unbelievers who have no hope beyond this world. But there is another level of envy among brethren, and that seems to be worse. Because, if one isn’t careful, the hopes and promise used to deal with that of unbelievers would not be of help to us in this case because the truth is that those very promises for your brother/sister too.
I have had my fair share of this pain last year, and I agree it brought a lot of confusion into my life. I see God saying we must not envy even when our emotions are telling us there is a justifiable reason to envious. It could be that our Father seemed to give others things He doesn’t seem to be giving us, or that other people seemed to have some clarity about what God wants to do in their life (like Joseph dreams was clear) and we are still trying to find our feet, or other people are either pompously or unwittingly and innocently putting all of these things in our faces. You will agree this is the spectrum of it all.
Who would have thought that Jesus was coming from Judah’s tribe, when as at that time He had no dream of greatness like Joseph did. Who would have thought that the house of Levi will be the one to be privileged to serve before God’s altar before Jesus came at that time? Who would have thought it would have been the children of Issachar who would know the times and have the knowledge of what Israel should do at a point in life? Who would have thought that one of Benjamin’s female descendant would become a queen in a foreign land and save the whole nation from extinction or one of his sons who become the apostle of God’s grace to the Gentiles?
Eventually, this God is not a God of favouritism. He said it loud and clear that:
“For every one that is called by my name: for I have created him from my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” (Isaiah 43:7, KJV)
May this truth armed you in the fight against envy, in the same way it has armed me since I discovered it.
Happy new month.
Thanks for reading.