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“That We Might have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)

Genesis Chapters Forty-Two Through Forty-Five

The Problem Of Guilt

The problem of guilt is a recurring theme in literature. A character in a novel commits a crime and seems to get away with it. The police have their suspicions but are unable to prove anything. The criminal at first is relieved, thinking he has escaped justice. But soon he finds that he has not escaped, for his conscience torments him, and he cannot free himself from it. His life is made miserable by the unrelenting accusations of a guilty conscience.

The sons of Jacob had this same experience after they imprisoned their brother in a pit, discussed killing him, and finally sold him as a slave to a band of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. They seemed to get away with their crime; Jacob their father was satisfied with their explanation that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. As long as they kept to themselves what had really happened, they were safe.

It was not that easy. Years later when the brothers met up with Joseph in Egypt the memory of their crime against him was still fresh in their minds. Joseph–whom they did not recognize–spoke harshly to them and accused them of being spies. He sent them back to Canaan with others to bring back their youngest brother Benjamin.

To assure that they would return, Joseph kept Simeon in Egypt as a prisoner. To what did they attribute this unfortunate turn of events? To their sin against Joseph. “Surely we are being punished because of our brother,” they said (42:21).

Though years had passed, they remembered Joseph’s pleading for his life. The memory of his pitiful cries must have tormented them relentlessly. When they were on their way home from their second trip to Egypt and Benjamin was accused of stealing Joseph’s silver cup, a horrified Judah said that God had uncovered their guilt (44:16).

The Only Remedy

The brothers expressed remorse and regret for what they had once done to Joseph, but they could find no peace. They could not undo the great harm that they had done first to Joseph himself and to their father Jacob. They knew that they deserved to be punished by God for what they had done. That is why they saw the hand of God’s justice in every unfavorable turn of events.

The only remedy for their guilt was forgiveness. Joseph put his brothers to the test to see if they had repented of the evil they had done to him. He gave them opportunities to demonstrate envy and callousness toward Benjamin. When he saw that they had repented he made himself known to them (in one of the most touching scenes in all of Bible history). Joseph forgave his brothers. As a child of God Joseph did not try to usurp God’s authority as Judge by taking revenge on his brothers or by holding a grudge against them (50:19).

Forgiveness is the only cure for guilt. The guilt-plagued soul will never find peace by ignoring real guilt or by indulging in rationalizations and excuses for sinful conduct. Guilt must be faced and confessed, as David faced and confessed his guilt, saying to God, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight” (Ps. 51:4).

This is also what our Lord teaches through His apostle: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

God who would have been just to punish us for our sins has instead laid all our sins on Jesus His Son. The sacrifice of Jesus has satisfied God’s justice, and now He is just to forgive.

— Pastor John Klatt