Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?The Fear of God
No one could say this with more confidence than Joseph, all whose actions were evidently inspired and governed by genuine piety. He seems to have used this language as a pledge of honourable and just dealing with those who were completely within his power.
I. What does the Fear of God Involve?
(a) A conviction of God's existence.—Without this man is little better than the brutes that perish, to whom an unseen and Superior Being remains unknown, through the limitation of their faculties. It is the prerogative of man to know that God is, and that He is omnipresent and omniscient.
(b) A reverential regard for God's law.—The Supreme is not only a Creator; He is also a Ruler, who ordains laws and ordinances for the regulation of the life of His intelligent and voluntary subjects. The mind of man can not only comprehend such laws; it can appreciate their moral authority, admire their justice and wisdom, and treat them with loyal respect.
(c) A sense of amenability to God's authority.—This may take various forms, but from true piety it is never absent. The godly man fears to offend a Governor so great, so righteous, and so interested in the obedience of His people.
II. Is the Fear of God Compatible with the Relation of the Christian to his Saviour?—The ancient Hebrews cherished toward Jehovah a reverence and awe which gave an especial gravity and solemnity to their religion and their worship. The revelation of the law amid the thunders of Sinai was fitted to form in the Jewish mind an association between religion and trembling awe. But 'grace and truth came by Jesus Christ'; and we are told that 'perfect love casteth out fear'. The solution of this difficulty is to be found in the progressive nature alike of revelation and of experience. There were reasons why the earlier revelation should be especially of a God of righteousness, why the latter revelation should be of a God of love. And the penitent sinner, whose religious feelings are first aroused by fear of justly deserved punishment, advances through the teaching of the 'spirit of adoption' to an intimacy of spiritual fellowship with His Father in heaven which softens fear into reverence and awe into a chastened love. Thus the Christian never ceases to say, 'I fear God'; though the expression from his lips has a somewhat altered shade of meaning.
III. Are Important Social Ends Answered by the Prevalence among Men of the Fear of God?—Yes, for it is—
(a) A corrective to the undue fear of man.
(b) A preventive from the tendency to follow out every natural impulse.
(c) A strengthening of the bonds of mutual confidence in society.—Where the members of a community are understood to be under the influence of this spiritual and religious motive, there will be less of suspicion and distrust, and more of harmony and fellowship and true love.
The Power of Conscience
The history of Joseph is well known, but let us briefly recount it up to the point when the brethren break out in the words of the text. It is here that the strange part of the story begins.
What was it that made these men, just at this moment, when they saw one of their number bound before their eyes to be retained as a hostage, utter these strange words of self-accusation?
I. It was the Power of Conscience.—But observe that conscience was stirred by memory.
(a) Was there anything in the tone of Joseph's voice which brought back to their minds the thought of the brother whom they had so many years ago so wrongfully treated? It is a well-known fact that the voice changes less than anything that belongs to us, and when recognition by form and features fails after years of absence, some well-known and well-remembered tones will start again forgotten links of memory.
(b) Was it in the action of blindfolding, which reminded them of that scene so many long and forgotten years ago?
(c) Or did they think of what would be the grief of the old man at home when he found another son lost, and did this call to their minds the outburst of grief when Joseph was thought to be no more? In any case, it illustrates the fact that conscience is stirred by memory.
II. The Power of Conscience to Punish—How many times had that scene of anguish, when they were about to cast Joseph into the pit, caused them misery, and how they now recall it! 'We saw the anguish of his soul and would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.' The face of Joseph is before them as perfectly as if the deed had only happened yesterday. See the story of Herod Anti-pas, the murderer of John the Baptist, in the Gospels.
(a) Conscience is the witness in our hearts of a moral ruler.
(b) Conscience is the witness to us of a day of account.
References.—XLII. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2497. XLII. 21-22.—J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 236. XLII. 22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 840.
'A God of infinite perfections has the whole of our life in His hands, sees the end from the beginning, knows how to adjust the strain of trouble to our powers of endurance, sends appropriate little mitigations of one kind or another, like temporary cordials; and by a long and wonderful series of interventions, succours, and secret workings, Jacob, who at one time said, 'All these things are against me,' finds himself housed in Goshen, in the land of light.'
—James Smetham, Letters, p. 174.
A Sea of Troubles
I. There are times when everything seems to be against us. It is clear that such a time had come to Jacob. He was old—life's fire was damped—and the land was famine-stricken and his sons were lost. Jacob had reached one of those bitter times when everything seemed to be against him. It is not the way of the messengers of evil to come at respectable and ordered distances. Sometimes the hand of one has barely ceased to knock when the feet of another are hurrying to the threshold. If this view of the coming of troubles be a true one, and not a rare or exceptional experience, there is one proof of it that we shall be sure to find. We shall find it expressed and crystallized in proverbs, for a proverb is an epitome of life; and a proverb will only live in people's tongue if it interpret with some measure of truth a people's heart. Well then, have we not one proverb that says, 'Troubles never come singly'? Have we not another that says, 'It never rains but it pours'. These proverbs have lived because men feel that they ring true. They might be written across this hour in Jacob's life, and they might form the motto of hours in your life and mine. May I not say that in the life of Jesus, too, we find traces of this unequal pressure? There were days for Him when every voice made music; there were hours when everything seemed to be against Him. Had it been otherwise the Bible dared not have written that He was tempted in all points like as we are. So to our Lord there came the hour of darkness when sorrows were massed and gathered as to a common centre, and pierced not by one shaft but by a score. He died as a sacrifice upon the cross.
II. Things that seem against us may not be really so. God wraps His blessings up in strange disguises and we rarely have faith to see into their heart. Many a thing that we should call a curse, in the language of heaven may be called a blessing; and many a thing we welcome as a blessing, in the language of heaven may be called a curse. I would suggest, then, in all life's darker seasons a wise and reverent suspense of judgment. It takes the totality to understand the parts, and we shall not see the whole until the morning.
III. The things that seem against us, then, may not be really so; then lastly, whether they are or not we may still triumph. If God be for us who can be against us—all things are working for our good. So may a man whose faith is firm and steadfast wrestle on towards heaven 'gainst storm and wind and tide till the light affliction which endureth for a moment, is changed into the glory of the dawn.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 207.
References.—XLII. 36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 837. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 113. XLII.—F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 152. XLIII. 1.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 262.
Endurance, the Christian's Portion
From his youth upwards Jacob had been full of sorrows, and he bore them with a troubled mind. His first words are, 'If God will be with me... then shall the Lord be my God'. His next, 'Deliver me, I pray thee'. His next, 'Ye have troubled me'. His next, 'I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning'. His next, 'All these things are against me'. And his next, 'Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been'. Blow after blow, stroke after stroke, trouble came like hail. That one hailstone falls is a proof, not that no more will come, but that others are coming surely; when we feel the first we say, 'It begins to hail,'—we do not argue that it is over, but that it is to come. Thus was it with Jacob; the storm muttered around him, and heavy drops fell while he was in his father's house; it drove him abroad. It did not therefore cease because he was out in it: it did not end because it had begun. Rather, it continued, because it had begun; its beginning marked its presence; it began upon a law, which was extended over him in manhood also and old age, as in early youth. It was his calling to be in the storm; it was his very life to be a pilgrimage; it was the very thread of the days of his years to be few and evil.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—XXXII.—Spurgeon, Sermons, Nos. 2739, 2817, 2979, 3010. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 116.
And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.
We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.
And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.
And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:
Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.
And he put them all together into ward three days.
And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
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.
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 unto them.
And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.
And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?
And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,
The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.
And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:
We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.
And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.