Acknowledging Broken Relationships

Explore the Bible Series

May 4, 2008


Background Passage: Genesis 42:1-38

Lesson Passage: Genesis 42:6-7, 9, 13-24


Introduction:  Genesis Forty-Two recounts the story of Joseph’s most difficult trial, his broken relationship with his brothers.  Approximately twenty years had passed since Jacob’s sons sold their brother into slavery.  Joseph, in the ensuing years, faced severe trials of his faith; yet, in time, God had honored his faithful servant.  Our present study, however, reveals that the wrongs of the past still stung Joseph.  Time had not completely dulled the agony of betrayal at the hands of his siblings.


This narrative, though set in the ancient Middle East, has a familiar ring for all of God’s people.  At one time or another, all believers face the rejection, disappointment, and betrayal of those who should love us most.  The Bible clearly acknowledges these heart-wrenching experiences and does not leave us without counsel and example about handling these circumstances.  The Joseph narrative gives Christians invaluable resources for responding, in a Christ-honoring way, to the abuse of others.  Note these wise actions and attitudes of Joseph.


  1. Joseph seemed to recognize the possibility of change in his brothers.  He did not allow the hurts of the past to engender a bitter cynicism that would poison his heart.  Instead, he adopted a “wait-and-see” posture toward his brothers.  God still changes lives, and Joseph apparently recognized that the Lord might have softened the hearts of his cruel siblings.
  2. Joseph evidenced a wise discernment in dealing with his brothers.  He recognized the ten immediately, but he did not disclose his own identity until sometime later.  Christians should have a forgiving spirit (this, it seems to me, is beyond dispute), but God has not called his people to silly gullibility. Forgiveness does not require naïve indulgence and empowerment of chronic sinful behavior.  Joseph was a forgiving man, but he was not a fool.  He took time to discern the intent and content of his brothers’ character. The apparent harshness of Joseph’s initial response to his brothers served a test of their character, a test that preceded Joseph’s openness to these men that had treated him so cruelly.
  3. Joseph showed kindness to his brothers.  Despite the prime minister’s rough treatment, the brothers discovered that he had returned the money they had paid for the grain.  Certainly, Joseph’s generosity confused the men, but they must have known, in some sense, that the prime minister had shown them a great kindness.  In the New Testament, Jesus and Paul remind believers to show kindness to those who wrong them, and Joseph exemplifies this principle wonderfully (See Matthew 5:43-48 and Romans 12:17-21). 
  4. Joseph showed great patience in rebuilding his relationship with his brothers.  Relationships, when deeply injured, seldom heal over night.  The events recorded in Genesis Forty-Two through Forty-Five took place over a lengthy period of time.  Reconciliation is a journey, and both parties must allow time for the ruptured relationship to recover.  Joseph kept an open but guarded heart.  In time, the relationship, so violently injured by his brothers, began to heal. 


Lesson Outline:


I.                   Jacob’s Commission for his Sons (42:1-5)

A.    A severe famine (See 41:56a): The text tells us that the famine affected the entire region.  If this famine was caused by drought, this was an unusual experience.  The Egyptian Delta received its water supply from the Nile.  The headwaters of this great river come from the mountainous region of Central Africa, and, therefore, droughts are fairly rare.  Antiquity does record some severe droughts, so severe, in fact, that the inhabitants of this region apparently engaged in cannibalism.  Canaan, on the other hand, depends on rainfall for most of its water supply; so, drought-induced famine occurred often.  Derek Kidner concludes that region-wide drought, like Joseph encountered, did not happen very often.

B.     Ten sons sent to Egypt (vv. 1-5): Jacob seemed distrustful of his sons.  The desperate situation forced the patriarch to seek provision in Egypt, but he refused to allow Benjamin to accompany the other sons on the journey.  Perhaps Jacob feared, with some justification, that the older sons might harm Benjamin.


II.                Joseph’s First Encounter with his Brothers (42:6-24)

A.    Joseph’s initial harshness toward his brothers (vv. 6-14): The brothers appeared before Joseph, but they did not recognize their sibling.  In fulfillment of the first dream of his youth, Joseph watched his brothers bow before him as they requested bread from the Egyptian governor.  He chose to test the men by speaking roughly to them and accusing them of being spies.  They, of course, assured Joseph that they were all brothers, the sons of one man. 

B.     Joseph’s test of his brothers (vv. 15-24): Joseph imprisoned his brothers for three days, and then he told them to return to their father, on one condition.  One sibling would remain behind, and the other brothers must return to Egypt with Benjamin.  The distressed sons of Jacob concluded, among themselves, that the present circumstances had occurred because of their blood-guilt in selling their brother, twenty years before.  Joseph overheard their conversation, and, as he turned away, he wept.


III.             The Brothers’ Return to Canaan (42:25-38)

A.    Joseph’s secret refund of the brothers’ money (vv. 25-28): As the brothers prepared to return home, Joseph ordered servants to give extra provisions to the ten and return the money the men paid for the grain.  On the return journey, one of the siblings discovered the money, and all the brothers recognized the hand of God in all the recent occurrences.

B.     The sons’ report to Jacob (vv. 29-38): Jacob’s sons reported their experiences to their father, and each of the men discovered the refunded money in the containers of grain.  They reported that the governor spoke harshly to them, and they recalled the demand that Benjamin return to Egypt with them.  Jacob, deeply grieved about the plight of Simeon, refused to allow Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt.