Question: Genesis chapter 42: What plans for his brother’s good did Joseph have when he called his brothers spies?
Answer: For those who do not remember the history of Joseph, he was sold as a slave by his brothers into Egypt, because they could not stand his dreams where he saw them bowing before him. “Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” (Genesis 37:28) This by the way was a picture of Judas selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)
You can read the whole story in your Bibles from Genesis chapters: 37, 39-50. So I better give you a summary: While down in Egypt Joseph was falsely accused of rape by his boss’ wife. Potiphar sent him to prison. “Jesus Christ was falsely accused by the Pharisees as being demonized, a drunkard, and a heretic. For this He was executed by Rome and entered the prison of death.” (Jerusalem COUNTDOWN, John Hagee, which I highly suggest you read this book on the Iran crises.)
Joseph came out of prison after he prophesied correctly what would happen to fellow prisoners. The king heard about this some time later, when he had a dream and needed someone to interpret it for him. Joseph was then made second in command of all of Egypt, the world power at that time. The dream Pharaoh had concerned a famine that was coming after seven years of plenty. Joseph wisely set aside sufficient provisions for the nation and enough for others. This is where the brothers come back into the scene. They had to go down to Egypt to get food for the family, seeing the famine was in the land of Canaan, as well, where they were living.
At this point Joseph looked very much an Egyptian, and had learned the language. Some twenty years had gone by, but Joseph did not reveal himself to his brothers right away because he wanted to see if they had repented of their sin of selling Him into slavery. He also called them spies to see their reaction. “So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them. ‘You are spies!'” (Genesis 42:8-9)
This is where your question comes in; Joseph pretended that he thought that they were spices to see if they really were repentant! He never planned to harm them; they harmed themselves by having to live with their guilt for what they had done to their brother so long ago. It is also a picture of how the Jewish Nation rejected their Messiah Jesus, but also how we as a world rejected the Lord of Glory! We cannot say that only the Jews killed Jesus, the sin of each one of us killed Jesus, because He was dying for our sins, so we would not have to. He is waiting for the nation of Israel to realize their sin and accept Him as their Messiah, but also He waits for each one of us to receive Him as our Lord and Savior!
When Israel receives Jesus Christ as their Messiah they will rejoice like Joseph’s brothers did when they were united. When we receive Christ as our own personal Lord and Savior we will rejoice in the Lord. I love this part of the story of Joseph: “Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers.
“And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph; does my father still live? But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come near to me.’ So they came near. Then he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.” (Genesis 45)
This is such a beautiful picture of how one day all of Israel will be saved as it says: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-26) “The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, say the LORD.” (Isaiah 59:20)
The nation of Israel will have to go through a time of Tribulation, but at the end of that time they will turn to Jesus Christ of the Bible to be their Messiah: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn!” (Zechariah 11:10)
Thanks for the question,
Gary T. Panell
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