We’re continuing in our story about Joseph and his brothers. Next, Joseph puts all the brothers in prison for three days. Let’s pick up the story:
“Now Joseph said to them on the third day, Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die. And they did so (Genesis 42:18-20).

One commentary states, “he, the lord of Egypt, would not punish or slay these strangers upon mere suspicion, but would judge them justly. How differently had they acted towards their brother! The ruler of all Egypt had compassion on their families who were in Canaan suffering from hunger; but they had intended to leave their brother in the pit to starve! These and similar thoughts could hardly fail to pass involuntarily through their minds at Joseph’s words, and to lead them to a penitential acknowledgement of their sin and unrighteousness.” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament)

The brothers continue to be assaulted with their own sin toward Joseph and become aware emotionally and mentally of what he experienced. And finally, God’s work brings fruit!

Here is what the brothers say to each other, “’Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us. Reuben answered them, saying, Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood’” (Genesis 42:21-22).

“We are guilty…we saw [his] distress…we would not listen…therefore [we are receiving just punishment].” 

Eureka! Repentance and surrender! They recognize their sin and take responsibility for it. They admit to the distress they caused. They see that God is bringing punishment. They surrender to His work in their lives. This is what God has been waiting for and what Joseph has been desiring. Both desire it for the good of the brothers, so that their sin can be forgiven and cleansed, and they can fellowship both with God and Joseph with pure hearts.

And it required the brothers experiencing a similar pain that Joseph experienced, including being in prison–just as Joseph was in the pit and in prison.  

I believe God puts us in different kinds of “prison” through various means so that we can be brought to repentance. What can “prison” look like? 

  • Someone treats you poorly and you realize that you treat others like that at times.
  • Your prayer isn’t answered “yes” and you realize that you’re asking from a selfish motive.
  • Someone forgives you and you are reminded about your own bitterness toward someone else.
  • Someone doesn’t keep a promise and you remember a promise that you haven’t fulfilled.
  • You are furious because someone gossiped about you but it only makes you aware of your own gossiping. 

These kinds of “prison” will only bring us to repentance and surrender if we are aware of what’s going on. And we’ll only cooperate when we are convinced of God’s good intention to bring us to a greater level of holiness.

Next time I’ll share a way to become more aware of those “prison” experiences. In the meantime, ask God to reveal if He has placed you in one right now. If you would be willing, please comment on your own insights about what the brothers are experiencing.

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