Scripture: “Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this” Genesis 44:4c-5 ESV
Observation: Joseph’s brothers, having explained anxiously to Joseph’s steward their consternation over how payment for grain ended up in their sacks, no doubt felt even more alarmed with the following test of character. After providing a sumptuous meal for the eleven (with Benjamen receiving five times the portion), Joseph instructs his steward to place his silver chalice in the youngest’s sack and send them on their way. Then pursue them, withdraw the cup, and accuse them of repaying evil for good (above verses).
When the scheme unfolds, Jacob’s distraught sons tear their clothes and return to Joseph’s house to plea their case. However, this time, Judah speaks to Joseph and confesses their corporate sins against God and the backstory of how Benjamen is the only surviving son of their father’s favored wife. Moreover, if they fail to bring Benjamen back to his father, their father will despair unto death. Judah then earnestly requests that the governor (Joseph) spare Benjamen and instead take him as his servant since he pledged his life to his father as a guarantee for Benjamen’s safe return. Joseph, deeply moved, parts company, weeps privately until composed and then returns to reveal his identity to his brothers (45:1-3). Thus, the story transitions to its final chapter of the reunion and restoration of Jacob’s family.
Takeaway: The theme of substitutionary atonement continues with this segment of the story and again points us to the salvific work of Christ. But while Judah, you, or I can do nothing in ourselves to save the souls of our loved ones, we can do our part of sacrificially standing in the breach. For Judah, this marks the second time he offers to sacrifice his freedom and even his life to ensure his little brother’s wellbeing. But there is a nuance to this account that also points us to our Savior. Christ paid the price in full to earn our freedom: he repaid good (his life) for evil (the Accuser’s ransom).
What does this mean for you and me? If we live long enough in this world, we will encounter situations where evil is tangible and evident in human affairs. Whether it be war, gang violence, or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, we will see the ravages of sin unfold. So how should we respond? By repaying good for evil:
- Ameliorating others’ suffering
- Standing up for the oppressed
- Sharing our message of hope in Christ
And with God’s help, good will triumph over evil.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who repaid good for evil by rescuing us from the penalty of sin. Would you please help us follow in your Son’s footsteps and—leaning on your grace and the power of your Holy Spirit—repay good for evil in the places he leads us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling