Genesis 42:11
The famine was part of God's plan to carry out his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13, 14). But it is not merely a fact in the historical preparation for what he was bringing to pass; a link in the chain of events leading on to Christ. We must look upon it as part of a series of types foreshadowing gospel truths. The famine was a step towards the promised possession, and has its counterpart in the work of the Holy Spirit. It represents the spiritual want of man; conviction of sin (John 16:8; cf. Romans 7:9), leading to know the power of Christ's work (Matthew 18:11).

I. The first step is CONSCIOUSNESS OF FAMINE; that a man's life is more than meat; more than a supply of bodily wants. It is realizing that he has wants beyond the present life; that in living for time he has been following a shadow. This knowledge is not natural to us. Bodily hunger soon makes itself felt, but the soul's need does not; and until it is known, the man may be "poor and blind and naked," and yet suppose that he is "rich and increased with goods."

II. WE CANNOT OF OURSELVES SUPPLY THAT WANT. Gradually we learn how great it is. We want to still the accusing voice of conscience; to find a plea that shall avail in judgment; to see clearly the way of life that we may not err therein. In vain we look one on another, seeking comfort in the good opinion of men, in their testimony to our upright life. In vain we try to satisfy ourselves, by promises to do better, or by offerings of our substance or of our work. In vain is it to seek rest in unbelief, or in the persuasion that in some way all will be right. The soul cannot thus find peace. There is a voice which at times will make itself heard - "all have sinned" - thou hast sinned.

III. GOD HAS PROVIDED BREAD. "I have heard that there is corn in Egypt" (cf. Romans 10:18), answers to the gospel telling of the bread of life. As to this we mark -

1. It was provided before the want arose (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). The gospel tells us of what has already been done, not of a gift to come into existence on certain conditions. The ransom of our souls has been paid. We have to believe and take (Revelation 22:17).

2. How faith works. They must go for that food which was ready for them. To take the bread of life must be a real earnest act, not a listless assent. The manna which was to be gathered, the brazen serpent to which the sick were to look, the command to the impotent "Rise, take up thy bed and walk," all show that it is not enough merely to wish, there must be the effort of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). This is a law of the spiritual kingdom. As natural laws regulate results within their, domain, so spiritual results must be sought in accordance with spiritual laws.

3. It is our Brother who has made provision for us. This is our confidence. He waits to reveal himself when in humility and emptiness we come to him, and to give us plenty (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). - M.

We are true men.
I. THE MISTAKEN ESTIMATE. "We are true men." Were they? They spoke for themselves, they spoke for one another; but had they a good report of the truth itself? You know better than that — they were not true men, anything but true men. How came it to pass that they formed such a mistaken estimate of themselves? How comes it to pass that men now-a-days form similarly false estimates of themselves?

1. They dwelt on their superficial goodness, and forgot their deeper wickedness. "We are no spies." No; they felt hurt by the very suspicion; they would have scorned the thing. But there are worse things than going forth to see the nakedness of the land, worse men than spies. And these very men were guilty of far greater wickedness (see Genesis 37:2, 4, 5, 11, 18, 20). They were guilty of malice, falsehood, treachery, murder. Their conduct was unmanly, unbrotherly, unfilial. They were not spies, but they were liars, impostors, kidnappers, fratricides, monsters. But they ignored the profound wickedness, and dwelt fondly upon a goodness which was not very good. Is not this a very common method with us still? We think how blameless we are in matters on the very surface of life, and forget how guilty we are in the weightier matters of the law.

2. They dwelt on their exceptional goodness, and forgot their prevailing wickedness. "We are no spies." They were right here, but in how many respects were they wanting? How many base characteristics they had we have just seen. But is not this seizing on some creditable trait of character, and ignoring all the bad traits a constant source of self deception? Says the prodigal son, listening to some story of covetousness and meanness, "Well, anyhow, nobody can charge me with money-grubbing!" And the man who is a walking lie, a mass of selfishness, full of egotism and pride, will reply, when some one is convicted of tippling, "Well, thank heaven, I never was a beast!" People think sometimes that the Pharisee is only found in the Church among seemingly good people; but the Pharisee is in the world also, in the most outrageous stoners, and it is often curious to hear the sanctimonious accent in the hiccup of the drunkard, and to see the broad phylactery showing through the finery of the harlot. The apostle says, "If we offend in one point we are guilty of all," but we argue as if to keep one point was to be innocent of all. "True men." They are true all round, the soundness of their hearts discovering itself in the harmony and beauty of their whole life. But, alas I we judge ourselves by some phase of exceptional goodness, and because we are not spies conclude ourselves saints.

3. They dwelt on their present goodness and forgot their past wickedness. "We are no spies." They were right in that matter, right at that time, but what of the past? The moral insensibility and forgetfulness exhibited by these men is simply surprising. So it is with ourselves. Nothing is more startling than our moral unconsciousness and forgetfulness. We easily believe time sponges out all disagreeable records, and presents us with a clean state. "True men." We are not true men until we are "purged from our old sins."

II. THE PAINFUL EXPOSURE. How wonderfully God can cleave to our very heart, and show us what spirit we are of, no matter how profoundly we may have been disguised from ourselves. Many years ago in Brazil a slave found what was supposed to be a diamond of nearly a pound weight. It was presented to the emperor, constantly guarded by soldiers, and was supposed to represent millions of money. But an English mineralogist produced a cutting diamond, and scratched the supposed mammoth prize. One scratch was enough, if it had been a real gem it would not have taken a scratch, it was no diamond at all, the millions vanished in a moment into thin air. So God detects and exposes character. It was thus in the narrative before us. "And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: if ye be true men bring your youngest brother unto me." That single scratch spoiled all the string of diamonds. "And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." The " true men" were found out, they knew themselves to be frauds. So God finds us all out one day or the other, one way or other. We notice sometimes with our friends how they suddenly stand revealed to us in a light most unexpected; they flash upon us in a character hitherto wholly unsuspected by us. And so our true self is long concealed from ourself, but at last God by His Spirit makes us know our true self, and we are filled with astonishment and distress. By Christ " the thoughts of many hearts are revealed." By the Spirit of Christ "the world is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." The Pharisee at last becomes a publican, and smiting on his breast, cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner." "A true man." Is not that the very grandest character you can give a man? How eloquent it is! "A true man." Is not that the very grandest epitaph you can write over the dead? Rich man, successful man, great man, gifted man, no, none of these are to be compared with " a true man." We all covet that inscription far more than sculptured urn or animated bust. And yet many of us are painfully conscious that we are not "true men." Oh! no, far from it. How full we are of weakness, hypocrisy, confusion, misery. "False and full of sin I am." But we may be all made "true men." Jesus was the true man, "the Son of Man," as Luther calls Him, "the Proper Man." Oh! how brave, noble, majestic, tender, pure, true, was the ideal Man. How grand is man when he reaches the full conception of his nature! And Christ can make us "true men," that is His mission.

(W. L. Watkinson.)




IV. A PLAINTIVE LAMENT (vers. 36, 38).

(W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Far be it from us to say that Joseph had attained absolute perfection when he was on earth, although his virtues were far beyond those of most other men. It will not be easy, or rather it will be impossible, to exempt him from the charge of dissimulation, when he alleged that his brethren were spies. His words are not to be considered as an assertion, but they express a suspicion, which certainly did not enter into his mind. His design was good. He meant to humble them for their good, but good intentions will not excuse a departure from truth. He knew that they were not spies come to see the nakedness of the land, but he wished, without discovering himself to them, to be informed of the welfare of his father and of his father's house. It is to be remembered that Joseph lived before the law was given. The light which discovers sin and duty shone less brightly in his days than in ours, and therefore the limits between what is lawful and what is unlawful would not be so easily discerned. It is likewise to be feared that Joseph's station as Prime Minister in the court of Pharaoh led him into connections, and placed him in circumstances, unfavourable to progress in virtue. He held fast his integrity, and would not let it go amidst great temptations, but human infirmity discovered itself in some parts of his conduct.

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

It could not be supposed that one man would suffer ten of his sons to engage at once in a business so full of perils as that of spies, or that so many brethren should risk the almost total extirpation of their father's house at one blow. It requires a very daring spirit for a man to venture his own life in an office so desperate; but who would venture at once his own life and the life of almost all that are dear to him along with his own? Clear proof, at least, is requisite before belief can be given to an accusation so improbable as this which was laid against Joseph's brethren, when it was known that they all belonged to the same house, and that there was only one brother left at home with a father sinking under the burden of age. "We are true men, we are no spies. We are what we pretend to be, and have assumed no false character." The business of a spy is not in all cases unlawful. It is a business, however, so full of temptations to falsehood that an honest man will not rashly undertake it.

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

The whole treatment of his brothers by Joseph was meant to prove their characters, and see whether they had or had not repented of their sin against him, and whether they had or had not changed their disposition and mode of life. They did not know that he was thus experimenting on them, but the result satisfied him, and led to his revelation of himself to them. Now it is often similar with men and their fellows. When Gideon led his army to the brook, and saw his soldiers drink, they had no idea that he was picking out his three hundred for his midnight attack on the Midianitish camp. But so it was; for those who did not care luxuriously to go down on hands and knees to put their mouths to the stream, but who simply lapped the water up with their hands as a dog laps up with his tongue, showed thereby that they had the qualities of rapidity, dash, and hardihood which were specially needed for the service on which he was bent, and therefore they were selected for it. Even so men have been watched by others when they were not thinking of anything of the kind, and the diligence, energy, integrity, and amiability which they have shown has commended them to those interested for some situation of trust, honour, and emolument. Young man, your employer is testing yon when you do not know it, therefore see that you are faithful and obliging even in that which is least, that you may approve yourself worthy of something greater. Many incidents might here be narrated to prove that men have risen from comparative obscurity to eminence simply because they had been tested, unwittingly to themselves, by others who were on the outlook for the agents that would most effectually serve their purpose. When they rose, envious people prated about "luck," but they who knew best spoke about character manifested by faithfulness in that which was least, and saw in their promotion the earthly miniature of the doing of the last Judge, who shall say to him whom He approves, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

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