The 12 sons of Jacob had to work through a legacy of violence, jealously, and deceit to arrive at reconciliation and peace with one another. Reconciliation is not only pleasing to God it is essential to eternal happiness.
This message is part of a 3 part series reviewing the family of Abraham and the covenant of faith. You can use these links to more easily find them on the site:
Jacob had 12 sons who would share the role of God’s covenant people. However, what we read about these men is a mix of violence, immorality, jealousy and deceit. The family of Jacob had a lot of problems. You might then wonder… how does our record of their exploits offer any kind of guidance or spiritual instruction?
You can apply that same questioning approach to most scripture. God’s word is not an exposition of exemplary behavior from great men and women put on display for us to emulate. Instead, the record we have of men and women in the bible is of people with problems… BUT people who work through their problems with God’s helping guidance… so that they might achieve something greater than their appointed days in the flesh.
We are going to examine the lives of the sons of Jacob as they work through all that violence, jealously, and deceit to arrive at reconciliation… making peace with one another… reconciliation is not only pleasing to God… but essential to eternal happiness. You will not enter into eternal life if you do not take to roll of peacemaker and learn to resolve differences.Jacob’s Sons
Jacob had been tricked into marrying Leah. He then worked out a deal to also marry his true love, Rachel. Jacob was off to a bad start that would cause a lot of hard feelings among his sons.
Leah was fruitful and gave birth to Reuben, then Simeon, then Levi, then Judah. After many years wait Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.
Genesis 37:1-4 Genesis 37:1-4 1 And Jacob dwelled in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.
4 And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
American King James Version× the source of trouble is Jacob’s flagrant favoritism for the children of Rachel over the children of Leah and the concubines. Joseph makes things worse by acting as a tattle tale on the other brothers.
Then Joseph has a dream in which all the others bow down to him. The brothers are angry. Even Jacob is a bit put out by it. The brothers devise a plot to murder Joseph. They grab Jacob in the open field and are working on their alibis when Judah gets the brainwave to sell the boy so they make a profit on their efforts. Joseph is sold to slave traders who take him off to Egypt. The brothers go home and tell Jacob that Joseph was torn apart by wild animals.Joseph Goes To Egypt (Genesis 37-41)
Joseph is a household slave to Potiphar (the captain of the guard who was also in charge of the prison). Potiphar’s wife starts making sexual advances towards Joseph. Joseph refuses and she accuses him of attempted rape.
Normally a rapist would have been executed but Potiphar may have suspected his wife’s honesty. However he has to do something… so he puts Joseph in the prison and uses him as a sort of prisoner administrator. Joseph remains close to God and eventually his reputation as a dream interpreter lands him an interview with the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh is so impressed he makes Joseph his second in command over Egypt.Judah in Canaan (Genesis 38)
Judah separates from the family. He marries a Canaanite woman and has three sons. He gets a woman named Tamar as a wife for the eldest son. That son dies. He demands the second son take Tamar and raise up children for the dead son’s inheritance. The second son refuses. The second son dies. Judah tells Tamar to wait until the third son is old enough to take her.
Tamar realizes Judah is going to go back on his promise. So, she dresses up as a prostitute with a veil, entices Judah into sex, and finally conceives twins who will carry on the line of Judah.
Question: Why put in all this salacious material about Judah? Answer: it shows us that Judah had gone off the rails with regard to the family, and the covenant. It also sets us up for Judah’s later transformation into a man God can work with… a man willing to reconcile and make peace.Famine in Canaan
The family situation is bad. So, God throws a stink bomb into the mix. Rain stops and a famine strikes Canaan. This crisis will cause the sons of Jacob to come face to face and to reconcile with one another. God does not force their reconciliation but He certainly sets up the ideal scenario for it to happen.
Genesis 42:1-3 Genesis 42:1-3 1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, Why do you look one on another?
2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from there; that we may live, and not die.
3 And Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy corn in Egypt.
American King James Version× Jacob sends the brothers to Egypt to buy food. However he keeps Benjamin back home because he clearly loves this other son of Rachel better than the rest. I guess Jacob figured the other sons were expendable. He clearly thought of them very differently than the sons of Rachel.
Genesis 42:6-7 Genesis 42:6-7 6 And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
7 And Joseph saw his brothers, and he knew them, but made himself strange to them, and spoke roughly to them; and he said to them, From where come you? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
American King James Version× The 10 brothers go to Egypt and end up appearing before Joseph who had charge over the grain stores. In spite of all they had done to prevent it… they end up bowing down before Joseph. However they do not know this man is really the boy they kidnapped and sold into slavery all those years ago. But Joseph does know!
Joseph asks about their family… and if they have another brother. Joseph was probably wondering if they had killed, or sold, Benjamin as well. Joseph says “you must stay her as prisoners unless one of you goes back to fetch that younger brother”. He throws them in prison for 3 days then says “OK, you can go back with food for your family but one of you must stay behind as a hostage until you produce the youngest brother”.
Genesis 42:21-26 Genesis 42:21-26 21 And they said one to another, We are truly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he sought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come on us.
22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spoke I not to you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and you would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spoke to them by an interpreter.
24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he to them.
26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed there.
American King James Version× the brothers begin connecting the dots and openly recognize their guilt… they acknowledge that they deserve of punishment for what they did.Joseph hears this, he wants to cry but he held himself together. He is going to play out the drama much further.
Application: if you are the offending party admitting your error, sin, or offense, is the first step towards reconciliation.
I think Joseph is making things hard for them because he wants to to know : “have these guys really changed or will they abandon the brother they left behind as hostage?” He is setting them up… testing their loyalty and love for their brother. Considering Joseph’s political power it would have been easy for him to lash out at these men in vengeance… but Joseph is a godly man and is aiming for something better… reconciliation and restoration of their family relationships.
Application: if you are the party who has been offended: do not focus on getting what you think you deserve (vengeance, vindication, emotional satisfaction). Focus on making peace.
The brothers go back to Canaan and the famine is still bad. They will need to go back and when they do the y will have to take Benjamin along.
Genesis 43: 6-14 Jacob is angry with them but he agrees to let Benjamin go.
Jacob is more concerned about the prospect of maybe losing Benjamin than the certainty of his other son, Simeon, wasting away in an Egyptian prison. Jacob’s favoritism is clearly on display. In earlier days his other sons became so jealous they were ready to commit murder. But now we see Judah… one of the unloved sons… taking the first step toward reconciliation.Judah display three traits of one who reconciles
- Judah appears to have accepted the unfair realities of the family. He and his brothers never deserved Jacob’s indifference… that was the byproduct of Jacob’s own bad decisions (Application: recognize you can’t change people, you can only change yourself).
- Judah takes personal responsibility for the situation (Application: do your part without expectation they will return the favor).
- Judah shows loyalty to the family and devotion to his father rather than using the opportunity to settle old scores, grudges, and grasp at vengeance (Application: seek what is good rather than what is emotionally satisfying).
The brothers return to Egypt along with Benjamin. They come before Joseph once again.
Genesis 43:26-34 Genesis 43:26-34 26 And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.
27 And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he yet alive?
28 And they answered, Your servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
29 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom you spoke to me? And he said, God be gracious to you, my son.
30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn on his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
31 And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.
32 And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.
33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marveled one at another.
34 And he took and sent messes to them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of their’s. And they drank, and were merry with him.
American King James Version× they share a meal and Joseph gives Benjamin 5 times as much as the other brothers.once again he tests to see if the brothers still show that same raging jealously towards the sons of Rachel.
Joseph’s servants load the brothers up with grain to take back to Canaan. Joseph tells his servants to secretly put the silver back in the sacks… and secretly put Joseph’s personal silver cup in the sack that goes with Benjamin.
The brothers head back to Canaan. Joseph send out his men to apprehend them and accuse them of stealing. The brothers say “search our stuff, you will not find anything”. Joseph’s men search the bags and… voila… find the silver cup with Benjamin. The brothers are hauled back to Egypt as thieves!
Joseph has set them up to find out what he wants to know: when their own freedom and lives are in the balance… will the brothers abandon Benjamin (the other son of Rachel)? Will they leave him to be a slave in Egypt like they did to Joseph himself so many years ago?
Genesis 44:16-20 Genesis 44:16-20 16 And Judah said, What shall we say to my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.
17 And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace to your father.
18 Then Judah came near to him, and said, Oh my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant: for you are even as Pharaoh.
19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have you a father, or a brother?
20 And we said to my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.
American King James Version× for Judah this was probably a painful admission and acceptance that their father loved the sons of Rachel best. But now instead of hatred and jealousy he accepts the fact, he focuses on respect and concern for his father.
Genesis 44:21-29 Genesis 44:21-29 21 And you said to your servants, Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.
22 And we said to my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
23 And you said to your servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, you shall see my face no more.
24 And it came to pass when we came up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.
25 And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food.
26 And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us.
27 And your servant my father said to us, You know that my wife bore me two sons:
28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since:
29 And if you take this also from me, and mischief befall him, you shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
American King James Version× another painful acknowledgement of the favoritism that tormented their family…. but now the attitude is different.
Genesis 44:30-34 Genesis 44:30-34 30 Now therefore when I come to your servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life;
31 It shall come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and your servants shall bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, If I bring him not to you, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
33 Now therefore, I pray you, let your servant abide instead of the lad a slave to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brothers.
34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
American King James Version× this is Judah’s shining moment in scripture… Judah is willing to offer himself, his life, his freedom, his dignity, for the sake of his brother Benjamin. It is a foreshadow of the role the line of Judah will play in the fulfillment of the covenant.
Application: to reconcile and make peace means you have to be willing to give up things. Most often a measure of pride, desire for vengeance, and to be proven right.
Judah could have chosen to let the chips fall where they may… he could have reasoned: “its not my fault Benjamin got caught with the cup”… “serves the old man right”… “he deserves to have his heart broken, just like he’s broken mine all these years”. But he didn’t.
Instead we see a change of heart in Judah. He has come a long way from the man who sold his brother, the man who got off track during the Tamar years. Now we begin to see the man through whom the greatest promise of the covenant will pass. The promise that through he sons of Abraham all nations will be blessed. The promise of the Messiah who would give his life as ransom for others.The Big Reveal
Having witnessed this Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. There is a lot of crying and hugging. The family of Jacob has been restored and reconciled to one another.
Joseph arranges to bring the whole family, including Jacob, to Egypt so he can care for them.
Genesis 46:1-4 Genesis 46:1-4 1 And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
2 And God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.
3 And he said, I am God, the God of your father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation:
4 I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again: and Joseph shall put his hand on your eyes.
American King James Version× the sojourn in Egypt will last 400 years. The Egyptians practiced a form of apartheid and would steadfastly refuse to mix with foreigners. Israel would have their own territory and would grow into a large nation biologically and socially separate from the people around them. When the time was right God would return them to Canaan.
Before he dies Jacob formally passes the blessings of the covenant people to his sons.
- To the firstborn son Joseph he gives all the physical blessings of wealth, land, and multitude of offspring - Israel does this by directly laying hands on the grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh
- The primacy of firstborn passes over Reuben because he had sex with his step-mother
- The primacy of firstborn passes over Levi and Simeon because they used the sign of God’s covenant (circumcision)deceitfully to violently murder the entire village of Shekem.
- The primacy of the firstborn goes instead to the fourth born son of Leah: Judah.
Genesis 49:8-12 Genesis 49:8-12 8 Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise: your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, you are gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be.
11 Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass’s colt to the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:
12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
American King James Version× Judah receives the portion of the covenant that promises authority, ruler ship and most important: from the line of Judah will come the Messiah, king of kings and lord of lords.
The Messiah who will give his own life to reconcile all humanity to God.
The Messiah who will create peace between man and God.
Let this Passover season be a time when you renew your own dedication to being a maker of peace… with your fellow man… and with God.