Consciences Stirred

They said to one another, ‘In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us’” (Gen. 42:21).  

- Genesis 42:18–28

Joseph, a true believer in God and heir of the Abrahamic covenant, knew the Lord’s people first had to go into Egypt so that Yahweh could rescue them and bring them to the Promised Land (Gen. 15:12–21; 50:24). Joseph also knew God’s people must be sons of the Spirit and not sons according to the flesh alone (Gal. 3:1–9). His brothers’ past actions rendered the sincerity of their faith questionable (Gen. 37–38), but Joseph also knew that penitent sinners are sons of the Spirit (Luke 15:10; 2 Cor. 7:5–16). He would bring his brothers into Egypt if they demonstrated that they were the Lord’s holy people by showing remorse for their evil. 

Joseph’s accusations and imprisonment of his brothers are a test to see if they are now his spiritual kin. This testing comes about indirectly, for if it were obvious that Joseph was their tester, any godliness they manifested might only be for show. Joseph must see if they will repent for the right reasons; thus, he incarcerated his brothers to help them come clean regarding their sins against him (Gen. 42:17).

According to today’s passage, Joseph’s ploy succeeded. His brothers see that their deeds have been evil, for they feel divine retribution in prison (v. 21). As often happens when we are convicted, the Holy Spirit has used outward means of discipline while stirring the brothers’ conscience. John Calvin comments: “God, in order to lead the sons of Jacob to repentance, impelled them, as well by the secret instinct of his Spirit as by outward chastisement, to become sensible of that sin which had been too long concealed.”

Our Lord will use any means necessary to provoke His people to repentance and keep them in the faith. That is why the proper administration of church discipline is so important. Our Father often works through such outward means to accomplish the purification of our souls, and so we must not fear the discipline of His body
(1 Cor. 5). Church leaders can do much to encourage their congregations to receive church discipline — if they follow the example of Joseph and make it clear that discipline comes from a compassionate desire to see restoration (Gen. 42:24; Matt. 18:15–20).

Coram Deo

Scripture is clear that church discipline is not to be carried out with the aim of vengeance. Instead, restoration must be the aim, and a disciplined person is to be forgiven when he repents (2 Cor. 2:5–11). All Christians are to be involved in church discipline, whether privately, or in worst-case scenarios, publicly before the elders (Matt. 18:15–20). If you must rebuke a brother in Christ, make it clear that you seek his repentance and restoration.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 32:22–32
2 Chron. 33
1 Tim. 5:20
James 5:19–20

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343