The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
How wonderfully even spoiled children may be developed in those very faculties which are supposed to lie dormant under all the pampering and care-taking of exaggerated parental affection! You have observed, from time to time, how deep, yet how simple, how complete, yet apparently how easy, have been all the plans and schemes which Joseph devised to meet the exigencies of his trying course. Think of him as the spoiled boy with whom we began. The rough wind was not to beat upon him; he was never to get his feet wet; any little thing that his father could do for him was to be done; he was to be coddled, and protected, and saved from every little annoyance; and if there was an extra drop of sweetness for any member of the family it found its way into Joseph"s cup. You say, after reading all this, "What kind of a man will he make? Why, if there were any germ in him of manhood at the beginning, it must have been worn out and wasted by such excessive pampering, such ill-spent care and attention, as Jacob"s." Yet he comes out of it all sagacious as a statesman, with a wonderful breadth and solidity and substance of character, upsetting all the calculations and notions of people who say that if you take too much care of a boy, pamper a life to excess, you are actually doing more harm than good. Now, let us be clear about that, because there is a particle of truth in that theory. I pause here, if haply my printed words—I dare not say my spoken message—should reach any spoilt child, any over-pampered life. There is no reason why you should not, after all, be a man! Your father"s fondling and your mother"s caresses need not kill the vigour that God gave you. You may come out of it all a strong and tender, wise and efficient servant of the public. It has been said, too, by those people who observe the ways of men, that oftentimes those who have been most carefully brought up can, when occasion requires, rough it with the best grace, and can do things which excite everybody"s wonder. We say, concerning certain boys who have had nothing but confectionery to eat ever since they were born, that have always been kept out of dangerous places, "Depend upon it, when the wind turns into the east, when there is a flood or a fire, when there is some sudden and terrible adversity in their lives, they will be unprepared for such a visitation." And it has turned out that the spoilt child has sometimes been the best man. He has stooped with a grace which has excited the wonder of everybody; he has shown how possible it Isaiah, under the covering of decoration and excess of attention, to be cultivating the best strength, and preparing for the wettest day. Some of us, who never had two halfpennies to make a noise with, when we have got into a little prosperity, and then a little adversity has come sharply and suddenly round upon us,—why, we have grunted and complained, and been pettish and snappish, as though we had been nursed in the very lap of heaven and never set our feet on anything coarser than gold. Oh, be men! Do have a life that domineers over circumstances; that takes the bitterest cups, or the exile"s solitude, or the slave"s lash, and that says, "After all, I am God"s child, and I will live for that dear Father."
"And Judah said, What shall, we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord"s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found" ( Genesis 44:16).
Contrast that speech with the scene at the pit"s mouth. Can you recall the former scene? They put the boy into the pit, sit down and eat bread, see a party of merchantmen in the distance, suddenly resolve on selling him; and they exchange their brother—body, soul, and spirit—for a handful of shekels, and never say good-bye to the child. But, now, "What shall we say unto my lord?" Judah came near and said, "Oh, my lord." "My lord asked his servants." "And we said unto my lord." Yet once again Judah said, "My lord." It is the same Joseph, it is the same Judah. Such are the alterations which occur in man"s life! One great difficulty which some of us feel, is the difficulty of punishing a body of men. It is comparatively easy to punish one man. But it is next to an impossibility to punish a committee. The Church can injure its one poor minister; but what can the minister do in the way of bringing punishment—not vindictive punishment, but righteous retaliation—upon an immoral, corrupt Church, that will do things in its corporate capacity which every individual member would shrink from in horror and disgust?
Joseph has had his task set in this business,—so to work that he can bring the rod down upon the whole lot. How is it that we lose our consciences when we join bodies of men? How is it that our moral nature becomes diluted the moment we consent to act upon a committee? How comes it, that the honest Prayer of Manasseh, when he joins a Church, may be persuaded to hold up his hand in confirmation of a resolution which is based on corrupt morals? Yet this may be done. There is in England today many a man smarting from resolutions passed by corporate bodies, and yet not one of the members of these corrupt bodies will come forward and say, "I took my full share of that resolution, and I accept the responsibility connected with it" One hands over the responsibility to another. One man says "he would not have voted for it, just as it stands, but he thought it might have saved something worse." Another says that he "didn"t fully understand it: it was made in such a hurry, and passed in such a tumult." And so they go on! But they are breaking one man"s heart all the time. God"s righteous curse rest upon such foul conspiracy! These are not passionate words. If I have spoken fire, it is because there was fuel enough to light.
So they called him, My lord! my lord—my lord! You cannot redeem your character by paying compliments after the deed is done. No man can redeem himself by too late courtesies. There are civilities which are right in their season, beautiful when well-timed. But they may come at a time which aggravates the old memory and tears open the old sore. This was so long in coming! Let us add up the years, and see how long Joseph was in hearing such words. He was seventeen when he went out first to seek his brethren; he was thirty when he stood before Pharaoh. Thirteen years we have up to this point. Then there were seven years of plenty, during which time Joseph never heard from his brethren. At the end of the seven years, making twenty in all, his brethren began to come before him. So it required something like twenty years to bring about the scene which is now before us. Some interpretations are a long time on the road. Some men have long to nurse their hopes, and to cheer themselves up, thinking that after all God will come. Twenty years is a period which takes the strength out of a Prayer of Manasseh, sucks the very sap out of his power, unless he have meat to eat that the world knoweth not of, unless he knows the way to the wellhead and can refresh himself with the springing water. So long in coming, but it came at last! This is it, sirs. The bad man"s day is a wasting day. Every moment is a moment ticked off,—it is one fewer. But the good man"s day is an augmenting quantity,—knows no diminution. Whilst it wastes, it grows; every passing hour brings the day nearer; and the day of the good man has no sunset. Judah continued to speak with marvellous eloquence and pathos, pleading for the release of Benjamin and making wonderful use of the old man and the grey hairs. In the thirty-second and thirty-third verses he said:—
"For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now, therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren" ( Genesis 44:32-33).
Showing the possibility of being so very careful about one member of the family and caring nothing about another. Here is Judah pleading for Benjamin as if he were his own child; yet this same Judah took part in selling another brother. So many of us are only good in little bits! We have points of excellence. People say about us, "After all, there are some points about him that are tolerably good." But what is that? We don"t want to be good in points, we want to be good altogether! Not to love for such reasons as Judah suggested even, in this eloquent and pathetic appeal; but to be good for goodness" own sake. Not to save some man"s grey hairs; but to honour God"s law, and thus to be most profoundly and universally gentle and pathetic Then there is a great fallacy underlying all such pleading as Judah"s; at all events, a possible fallacy. We try to compensate for our evil deeds to some people, by being extra-kind to others. Brethren, it cannot be done! You used your poor friend very ill, twenty years ago, and the memory of it has come upon you again and again. You have reproached yourself, and cursed yourself, for your unkindness, neglect, misapprehension, cruelty; and, in order to appease yourself, to make atonement to yourself, you have been very kind to some other friend. But you cannot touch the dead one! all your efforts towards helping Benjamin have had in them some hope of doing something at least towards making up for your cruelty to Joseph. But these efforts have been unavailing. Whilst your friend is with you, love that friend. It is but a short grey day we are together. There ought not to be time for strife, and debate, and harshness, and bitterness. The hand is already laid on the rope that shall ring the knell! And when the eyes once close in the last sleep they do not open again. It is all over! Then come pangs, scorpions, poisonings, piercings! We would give all the world to have another hour—one more short hour—with the dear, dear dead one! But it may not be. Whatever we may do to survivors and relatives, we do not touch the great and terrible blemish of our past life.
Now I have this question to ask: Is there any means by which I can touch the whole of my life? There is not. "Why," you say, "that is the language of despair." So. it Isaiah, for you, believe me; and if the despair is settled upon your soul, then you are so far prepared for the gospel, which is this: You can find no means of touching all your yesterdays, all your past life; but God has found such means. "The blood of Jesus Christ, Son of God, cleanseth from all sin." When we get into the mystery of his Cross, we see how every sin can be met. Believe me, it can be met only by all the mystery of that infinite, unspeakable love. So why should we be endeavouring to reach the past, when we have enough to do today? Why should we seek to hold a lifetime, when we cannot keep ourselves right for one hour? What then? I rest on Christ, and go up to his dear Cross, and say, "If I perish, I will perish here, where no man ever yet did perish." May God torment our consciences, raise us to the highest point of self-accusation, remind us of all our neglects, all our harshness, and all our cruelty, till we feel ourselves surrounded by scorpions, by messengers of judgment, and by terrible forces of all kinds: until there be extorted from our hearts the cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Then there shall come out of the Cross a glory which will cast the night of the soul away.
Judah having concluded his speech, we read in the next chapter that Joseph could not refrain himself before all those that stood by him. The room was cleared. Joseph wept aloud, and said unto his brethren, "I am Joseph!" Joseph, and yet more than Joseph. We shall not be the same men twenty years hence that we are today. The old name—yet there may be a new nature. The old identity—yet there may be enlarged capacity, refined sensibilities, Diviner tastes, holier tendencies. I am Joseph! It is as if the great far-spreading umbrageous oak said, "I am the acorn"! or the great tree said, "I am the little mustard-seed"! Literally it was Joseph; yet in a higher sense it was not Joseph: but Joseph increased, educated, drilled, magnified, put into his right position. You have no right to treat the man of twenty years ago as if twenty years had not elapsed. I don"t know men whom I knew twenty years ago! I know their names; but they may be—if I have not seen them during the time, and if they have been reading, thinking, praying, growing—entirely different men. You must not judge them externally, but according to their intellectual, moral, and spiritual qualities. To treat a man whom you knew twenty years ago as if he were the same man is equal to handing him, in the strength and power of his years, the toys with which he amused his infancy. Let us destroy our identity, in so far as that identity is associated with incompleteness of strength, shallowness of nature, poverty of information, deficiency of wisdom; so that men may talk to us and not know us, and our most familiar acquaintance of twenty years ago may require to be introduced to us today as if he had never heard our name.
But the point on which I wish to fasten your attention most particularly is this: that in human life there are days of Revelation, when people get to know the meaning of what they have been looking at, notwithstanding the appearances which were before their eyes. We shall see men as we never saw them before. The child will see his old despised mother some day as he never saw her. And you, young Prayer of Manasseh, who have attained the patriarchal age of nineteen, and who smile at your old father when he quotes some trite maxim and wants to read a chapter out of what he calls the Holy Bible, will one day see him as you have never seen him yet. The angel of God that is in him will shine out upon you, and you will see whose counsel you have despised and whose tenderness you have contemned. We only see one another now and then. Sometimes the revelation is quick as a glance, impossible to detain as a flash of lightning. Sometimes the revelation comes in a tone of unusual pathos, and when we hear that tone for the first time we say, "We never knew the man before. Till we heard him express himself in that manner, we thought him rough, and coarse, wanting in self-control, and delicacy, and pathos; but that one tone! Why, no man could have uttered it but one who has often been closeted with God, and who has drunk deeply into Christ"s own cup of sorrow."
Joseph made a more eloquent speech than Judah had done. He said to his brethren in the course of his address: " Song of Solomon, now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God." The great man is always ready to find an excuse for the injury that is done him, if he possibly can find one! This grand doctrine is in the text: that all our little fightings, and scratchings, and barterings, and misunderstandings: all our tea-table criticisms of one another, and magazine articles in mutual depreciation: all our little schemes to trip one another up, and to snip a little off each other"s robe, all these things are after all secondary and tributary. "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice."
"Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him" ( Genesis 45:15).
A day of reconciliation! A family made one. Brethren coming together again after long separation. It is a beautiful picture. Why should it not be completed, where it needs completion, in our own day amongst ourselves? Ministers sometimes have misunderstandings and say unkind things about one another—and exile one another from love and confidence for years. Is there never to be a day of reconciliation and Christian forgetfulness of wrong, even where positive wrong has been done? Families and households often get awry. The younger brother differs with his elder brother,—sisters fall out. One wants more than belongs to him; another is knocked to the wall because he is weak; and there come into the heart bitterness and alienation, and often brothers and sisters have scarce a kind word to say of one another. Is it always to be so? Do not merely make it up, do not patch it up, do not cover it up,—go right down to the base. You will never be made one, until you meet at the Cross and hear Christ say, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." It is in Christ"s sorrow that we are to forget our woes; in Christ"s sacrifice we find the answer to our sin; in Christ"s union with the Father we are to find all true and lasting reconciliation. But who is to begin? That is the wonderful question that is often asked us. Who is to begin? One would imagine that there were some very nice people about who only wanted somebody to tell them who was to begin. They want to be reconciled, only they don"t know who is to begin, I can tell you. You are! But I am the eldest,— yes, and therefore ought to begin. But I am the youngest. Then why should the youngest be obstinate? Who are you that you should not go and throw yourself down at your brother"s feet and say, "I have done you wrong, pardon me"? Who is to begin? You! Which? Both! When? Now! Oh, beware of the morality which says, "I am looking for the opportunity, and if things should so get together—" Sirach, death may be upon you before you reason out your wretched casuistry; the injured or the injurer may be in the grave before you get to the end of your long melancholy process of self-laudation and anti-Christian logic
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 44". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24