Disillusionment is not a small problem. It happens when we lose perspective because of unexpected and unexplained tragedies. Twelve tragic incidents highlight what brings people to be discouraged, despairing, disillusioned and depressed.
This is part 3 of 4.
B) The Big Picture (Genesis 42 - 47:12)
Genesis chapters 42-47 provides for us many very confusing situations. These difficult situations went on and on without any visible resolve. Years and years went by without having any answers. Our lives often run into similar confusing situations. When we step back and take a bigger look, we discover that our problems are networked with many other people’s problems.
It helps if we think of these individual problems or crises as pieces to a puzzle. Until we know how the piece fits into the whole puzzle, we will be confused. With time we probably find answers, but what about before then? Should we despair? No. If we trust God, He will give us faith that it will work out.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
Our faith enables us to trust the situation in His hands rather than insist on an explanation before the time is right. Many of these life lessons can be observed in Genesis 42-47. We will highlight some of the most significant ones. Think about your own life as we make these observations. Let’s look more carefully at these confusing ‘puzzle pieces’ and see how in the end they all worked out into a beautiful puzzle of grace.
An old tragedy engenders thoughts of another loss
“But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “I am afraid that harm may befall him” (Genesis 42:4).
Jacob was still jittery over Joseph’s supposed death. Benjamin was all he had. Jacob still seemed to be oblivious to the special needs of his other sons. He was willing to send his other sons to Egypt but not Benjamin. Jacob only really loved Rachel. Now that she was gone1, Benjamin, her only living son, was the only one to console him. Losing him would be tragic. His others sons and God’s presence did not comfort him.
Lesson: What is it that ‘makes’ your life? What if God takes your friend, spouse, wealth, fame, health, etc. away? When we place our security in things that perish, God will knock them out of position to have us trust in Him rather than in those idols.
New position makes one rethink past bitter treatment
“And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, “You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land” (Genesis 42:9).
When Joseph saw his brothers bow before him, his dreams of his youth returned to his mind. He no doubt first thought of the dream of the sheaves bowing down to him. His brothers once despised Joseph for telling them about the dreams. It is interesting that Joseph thought about the dreams rather than the old hateful memories.
“And he said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (Genesis 37:6-8).
Is it possible that Joseph also thought about the other dream too where even his father and mother would bow down to him along with his brothers? He might have surmised from this that his parents (only his dad was living) would come and visit him. Joseph perhaps at first did not reveal himself so that he could get to see his brother and father.
Or perhaps with his new authority, Joseph was still deliberating over what he would do with his brothers. Had he by this time forgiven them? If so, why not reveal himself then? Why would he at first put his brothers in jail? We are not sure but recognize that both these things, his longing to see his beloved dad and brother and his ability to bring revenge upon his brothers, were impacting his life.
Lesson: We are not sure of God’s full will for our lives. What is it that He wants to do through our lives? He sometimes gives us dreams to shape our own dreams and hopes. Often times He does not. But the Lord always reveals enough for us to lay hold of what He has designed us to do. Are you seeking His will? What you have found?
The pains of our past sins haunt our lives
“Then they said to one another, “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” (Genesis 42:21).
Joseph rightly calculated that his brothers would learn the lesson better if he hid himself from them and manipulated the circumstances a bit. At first Joseph put all his brothers in jail for three days (Genesis 42:17).2 Later he changed his mind and had only one imprisoned until they returned with his brother Benjamin to prove their honesty. It is unclear whether he changed his mind upon thinking about his father’s concern or further forgave his brothers for their evil to him. In the following verses Joseph increases the reflections of his brothers by secretly having the purchase money placed back into their sacks.
Lesson: We certainly do not understand why some things happen to us, but we would be wise like Jacob’s sons to reflect whether what is happening now is because of some sin in the past. Is it possible that God is disciplining you through this difficult situation?
Forced to face bereavement
“And may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Genesis 43:14).
Jacob was quite old. As we reflect back through the lessons that he has learned in his life, we are forced with Jacob to think about what God is like. How come the Lord allows these situations to develop in this way? Jacob evidently has not rejected his faith. We can see through the loss of his beloved Rachel and Joseph and now Simeon, that he was battling with depression. But through it all, he had a faint hope that El Shaddai would go on ahead of them in restoring what was left of his family.
Lesson: Jacob was again brought to his inability to cope with things. Are you the type where you try to avoid the pressures of life just so you can protect the few things you have left? God wants to also take them so that you will love Him with all your heart, soul and mind.
Tragic circumstances separate son from father
“Then he (Joseph) asked them about their welfare, and said, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” (Genesis 43:27).
Although we often think of Joseph in the way he overcame all sorts of difficulties, we rarely meditate upon what he really suffered. His brothers rejected him. They plotted to kill him. He was now living only by grace of some caravan passing by in the desert. Not only was his relationship with his brothers broken, but he was separated from his beloved father. His mother had already died.
It is difficult for those who have not suffered to identify with those who have gone without. There are long times of pondering why things have to be a certain way. He no doubt questioned, “Why he couldn’t grow up with his dad like others?” Instead he was confronted with a brutally evil world. Joseph now is pondering what it means that his father is alive. Will he actually be able to meet him after all these years?
Lesson: Healing takes place in lots of ways but especially through our careful reflection of what we loss and could possibly have had. Have you had a good relationship with your father or was it cut off because of situations beyond your control? How did you respond? What if you had a chance to be joined up with your father again, what would you say?
Tragic separation of two close brothers
“And Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there” (Genesis 43:30).
Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother. The others were half brothers. There was a special affection he had for Benjamin. Joseph was 17 years old when taken as a slave to the Ishmaelites (Midianites) (Genesis 37:2). His brother must have been at least a couple of years behind him because he was born as they went into the land of Canaan (Genesis 35:16). Rachel his mother died upon giving birth.
Joseph treated Benjamin so much nicer than his other brothers. He gave them five times the portion of food (see also Gen 45:14, 22). Benjamin probably was not part of the group of brothers that betrayed him, but this is not clearly stated.
Lesson: Sure Joseph was in charge of the world, but it seems his little brother’s presence meant more to him. Relationships are precious. Do you treat your siblings nicely? Do you value those around you or tend to take them and their persons for granted? What steps do you need to take to restore any broken sibling relationships?
Handling mistrust due to one’s past failures is difficult
“Now, therefore, please let your servant (Judah) remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. “For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?” (Genesis 44:33-34).
Note that Jacob trusted Judah but not Reuben his oldest son. Reuben offered his pledge, but Jacob did not take him up on it (Genesis 42:37-38). Perhaps because of how Reuben laid with his wife (Genesis 35:22) and blamed Reuben for Joseph’s death. If we carefully read the account of Genesis 37, we find that in fact Reuben sought to deliver Joseph out of his brothers’ evil plot. He was devastated when he found Joseph missing. Did his brothers ever tell him what happened to him? We do not know this. In any case, Jacob might have wrongly assumed Reuben’s carelessness when he actually was trying to save Joseph.
“Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him”--that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father.” (Genesis 37:22).
“Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments.” (Genesis 37:29).
Jacob trusted Judah a bit more and accepted his offer (Genesis 43:8). Judah felt very responsible. This is all the more true after he also had not protected Joseph, even though he saved him from being killed and sold him as a slave (Genesis 37:26).
Lesson: It can be hard if we are no longer trusted because of our past failure. Reuben, the oldest in the family, no doubt had the chance to show a change of heart but left his devotion to his father remain at a low ebb. Perhaps his own guilt over Joseph kept him from facing his father. Do you have any guilt towards your father? Confess it now and clear it up that your days might be well (Exodus 20:12).
Rightly responding to those who have abused you
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:4-5).
Joseph no longer could hold back his compassion and love. The lessons that his brothers would now learn would be on a whole different level. They now had to face the fact that their brother was alive and their false story to their father revealed. Joseph, however, noticeably jumps in and halts any grieving or arguing that might start up among his brothers. Instead he tells his brothers how he has seen God’s hand at work.
His statement is remarkable, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” By explaining how he looked at the larger situation, his brothers could begin to find hope that they would not immediately be killed. He had every possibility to drag out this thing and keep his brothers in suspicion. Joseph had a greater vision for his people. He did not allow personal hatred take over his heart but the mission that God had sent him upon. Joseph forgave his brothers of their treacherous treatment.
Lesson: Most people never have the chance at revenge. Joseph did. He did not even for a moment play the card of revenge on his brothers. Upon mentioning who he was, he immediately told him how God was using it for a greater purpose. He cleared the hidden threats that could have stood behind the scenes. Are your revengeful? Do you desire to get back at another? Put it aside. Forgive. Fix your heart on doing God’s glorious will. State your new way of handling the situation to those who fear your revenge.
Learning God’s lessons from one’s painful past
“And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and indeed he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” But he was stunned, for he did not believe them. When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Genesis 45:26-27).
Jacob was shocked. Joseph’s brothers were astonished and terrified. Jacob, Joseph’s father, simply did not believe. He couldn’t believe that Joseph was alive or even that he was ruler over Egypt. All the anguish in Jacob’s soul refused to come out until he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent from Egypt. His spirit then revived.
Jacob had once deceived his father Isaac and then bereft of his father. Now it is Jacob’s turn to learn the bitterness of losing one’s son. Before he allowed his greed to separate him from his father. Now Jacob is learning how terrible his greed was. It devastated his father-son relationship and in the end his whole family. Thankfully after many years the bitter lesson for him has ended.
Lesson: Some people might forget the tough things that happen in life, but some memories are never forgotten. God does not forget them either. According to His wise ways, He disciplines us. We can, however, trust God to care for these deeply painful memories. We cannot change the events but can change how we perceive them by trusting Him and enduring the consequences. Is there something deeply troubling you? Turn it over to God to handle. Seek what lessons might be learned - perhaps the duration of the discipline will be shortened.
Working through disappointment with God
“So Israel set out with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes” (Genesis 46:1-4).
Israel (i.e. Jacob) returned back to God. He deliberately went back to Beersheba. He offered sacrifices there. Another big life lesson added to the others. The question is, “Why does it take so long for us to return to God?” “Why do we have to go through difficult situations before we wake up?” The answer is short, “We simply do not trust Him.” Trust would have enabled us to trust that He had a larger mission that is made up of all the small troubles (pieces of the puzzle) that we experience in life.
If wrestling with the angel was Jacob’s salvation, hearing about Joseph led to his revival. God was real. God had not utterly forsaken him. Jacob trotted back to Beersheba where God had formerly spoken to him.
Lesson: God is always there close to us, but sometimes we shut ourselves out from His love and comfort. Jacob faced many life struggles, but he did not turn to God until now. Have you grown bitter towards God or not trusted Him with some part of your life? Now is the time to return. And then, like Jacob, you will again hear God speak to you.
Accepting God’s timing and finding God's blessing
“And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy.” (Genesis 46:27).
Jacob now had a full household. With Simeon and Joseph back in the picture, he all of a sudden could see how God had greatly blessed him. He had been wounded along the way, but his family (direct descendants not including those through marriage) was a full seventy in number. Jacob could finally see how God miraculously and sovereignly was fulfilling his plan. These seventy would become a great nation (Genesis 46:3). The full plan did not come into sight until much later when Jacob was 130 years old.
Lesson: If we are going to live a life of faith, we must trust God with His timing of fulfilling His intricate plans. Sometimes we do not know the end of his plans until much later like Jacob. Sometimes we do not see it fulfilled in our lives. Do you make your decisions on what God has done or what He has promised to do?
Seeking God’s best during one’s difficult life
“And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered” (Genesis 47:10-11).
The pinnacle of Jacob’s life was when he blessed Pharaoh. Here was this little deceiver who liked to hang around his mother at home now in Egypt blessing the greatest man on earth. It is incredible. God raised up a sinner to be the vessel of His glorious grace to the world. This is the same story we read in the New Testament when God chooses sinful people to join Him in His great plan of righteousness throughout the world. This is a picture of God’s extraordinary grace.
Lesson: Are you ready? God wants to bring the riches of His grace into the world through your life. Open your life up and shine. God is ready to use you. Just be careful to obey so that you will not have to suffer so many difficult training sessions as Jacob.
Disillusioned men and women will often rail against God. They see suffering and injustice. They accuse God of powerlessness, lack of compassion and even being unjust. These opponents of the Lord are desperately trying to resolve their inner problems, but these kind of ‘solutions’ do not bring them closer to an answer. Only faith can strengthen our relationship with God in these trying times.
God alone has the answers and will reveal them in the end. The Lord prides Himself in the very things man accuses God of not having: omnipotence, sovereignty, compassion and sense of justice. The solution is waiting for God to unwind the story.
Can we explain the way Job was stripped of his wealth and family? Can we happily tell others how Daniel was made an orphan, eunuch and shipped far away from all that was familiar? Can we comfort Joseph in the midst of his trials that there was a greater reason for his brothers’ desire to kill him and separate him from his beloved daddy? These are explainable if we give it time. God will show Himself as just. The real question is not if we fully understand what we are going through right now but whether we can trust God to fully resolve our deep inner anguish from what we and others around us have experienced in life.
Give it time. Focus on your responsibility in your given situation. Clarify your mission. Trust God. You will, like Joseph, see God’s glorious way of resolving the crimes of man. Disillusionment does not come from rightly perceiving things but by questioning the truth as revealed in God’s Word.
Our troubles and crises are pieces of the larger puzzle. We need to trust God according to His promise to work out all things together for good to those who love and serve Him (Romans 8:28). He is faithful, and we need to trust Him in His time to show us the whole puzzle. But even if we do not it while on earth, and sometimes God does not show us the whole puzzle here (e.g. Abraham did not see promises fulfilled but he believed (Hebrews 11:13), we will one day see it all.
- Recognize that obstacles in life can be used by God to train and mold us for greater effectiveness.
- Affirm that Gods plan is the most optimal and His timing is always the best.
- Understand the proper perspective on forgiveness.
Next => Read the dramatic conclusion to this amazing story on 'Handling Disillusionment'.