Grades 3-6 Lesson 48 for Sunday School:
Joseph: Part 6
Author’s Notes: Last week we asked the question: can a leopard change his spots? We found that while it cannot, if it were to become a whole new creature, for example – a lion, then it could be rid of its spots. And we learned that God can make us into brand new creatures when we are born again. He can wash away our sin-spots with the blood of Christ. But how can we know that this change has really taken place? There should be changes in our lives that are consistent with that new creature that we’ve become. Today we’re going to take a close look at Joseph’s brothers, to see if there’s any evidence that their hearts have truly changed. And we’ll take a close look at ourselves, too, to see if there’s evidence that we are truly new creatures, with the Holy Spirit living inside.
Last week, we looked at the question from the book of Jeremiah: can a leopard change his spots? Does anyone remember how we decided that could happen? Only if its creator were to change that leopard into a whole different creature. We saw that if God changed a leopard into a lion, then it would, in fact, lose its spots, since lions don’t have spots.
Now it’s not likely that God is going to ever change a leopard into a lion. But if He did, how would we know that the change had occurred? The most obvious answer is that it would look like a lion. But what about on the inside? Are there changes that should happen on the inside of a leopard that would show it had really become a lion?
Does anyone know anything about leopards? (Have the students share what they know, then add these leopard characteristics):
Now, if a leopard were to become a lion, all of these characteristics would change.
So, if you met an animal that claimed to be a lion, but preferred to spend it’s time alone, in trees, and could run very fast for long distances, then there’s a pretty good chance that maybe you’d be looking at a leopard in a lion’s skin. But deep inside, it would still be a leopard.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been studying the life of Joseph. We have watched him go from a hated brother, to a slave, to a prisoner, to the governor of Egypt. And last week he once again came face to face with the brothers who had sold him as a slave into Egypt. But rather than immediately revealing his true identity, and punishing them for all the suffering they had put him through, he chose to test them, instead, to see if their hearts were still hateful. Or if, perhaps, they had become different people than the hateful brothers they had been more than 20 years earlier.
In today’s lesson, we’re going to find Joseph continuing to test his brothers, until he is confident that he has seen them for who they truly are. Had they really changed? The book of James tells us that if we have truly changed, if our faith in God is real, then there should be things happening in our lives to show it. And that’s where our memory verse for this week comes from.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James 2:17
It’s important to remember that it is not these “works” that save us. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that “…by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is our faith in Christ that saves us. But there should be good works that result from the transformation in our hearts when we are truly saved.
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the changes you make in hearts and lives each and every day. Help us to learn, today, that people can change, when You work in their hearts. And help us learn to examine our own lives to see if there’s any evidence that we really have become new creatures in Christ. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: True Transformation (Genesis 42 - 45 )
Last week, we saw Joseph’s brothers showing up on his doorstep in the land of Egypt. The problem for them was that they didn’t recognize their brother. He probably looked like an Egyptian. And he was now almost forty years old. Remember, they hadn’t seen him since he was seventeen. But that time lapse didn’t stop Joseph from recognizing them.
Why had Joseph’s brothers gone to Egypt? To buy food for their families, who were suffering from the famine that was affecting not only Egypt, but all the lands. And how did Joseph treat them? He was harsh with them, and made sure they didn’t recognize him. He even accused them of being spies, and demanded information out of them. He learned that his father was still alive, as well as his younger brother, Benjamin.
Then, rather than revealing himself, and punishing his brothers for the way they had treated him all those years ago, Joseph decided to put his brothers through some tests, to see if their hearts had softened in those years he’d been away from them. They had told him, in Genesis 42:11 that they were “…all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.” “True men,” they had said. But when Joseph’s brothers had taken his coat back to their father, and let him believe that his favorite son had been torn to pieces by a wild animal, they certainly had not been honest men. But now they claimed to be just that. And Joseph wanted to test them a little more, to see if the transformation they claimed could be true. Let’s take a look at the bait Joseph used to lure them back to Egypt, and the trap he set before he was ready to finally reveal his true identity to his brothers.
So what had Joseph done, already, to test his brothers, and to make sure they would come back to Egypt, again? He demanded that they prove their honesty by bringing back to Egypt the younger brother they’d spoken to him about. And held one of the brothers as a hostage in Egypt, to make sure they would return. He also sent them back home with the food they’d requested. But he had their money put back in their sacks, without their knowledge. And today we’ll see just how they reacted to that discovery. Let’s just say that after their encounter with an already suspicious Egyptian ruler, they didn’t find it to be a pleasant surprise…
26And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
27And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.
28And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?
How did the brothers react to finding their money still in their sacks? They were afraid. In fact, they felt like it was a punishment from God. If you had opened a sack, and found money in it, how do you think you might feel? Most people would be happy to get some money they hadn’t expected. So why do you think the brothers were afraid when they saw their money back in their bags? Maybe they thought the Egyptians would accuse them of stealing it. Maybe they thought that at that very moment, the Egyptian army might be on their way to bring them back to Egypt to arrest them for taking food without paying for it. After the way Joseph had treated them, that wouldn’t really be a surprise.
But the brothers made it back home without any sign of the Egyptian army; just a lot of fear and confusion in their hearts. And it was time to fill Jacob, their father, in on all that had happened to them in Egypt. It certainly would not be an easy message to bring, telling him that they had to leave Simeon behind.
29And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,
30The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.
31And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:
32We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
33And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
34And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.
35And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
36And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
How did Jacob react to the news of all that had happened in Egypt, and to seeing the money in the sacks? Like his sons, Jacob was afraid. And he was also upset at the news of losing another son. Then, the thought that he might lose Benjamin, as well, seemed to have been all he could take. What was Jacob’s final conclusion at the end of verse 36? (You may need to read it again.) He felt like everything was working against him.
Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, tried to make things better.
37And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
38And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
Even Reuben’s promises were no comfort for Jacob. In his fear and sorrow, Jacob could not see that God was still in complete control of everything. Can anyone think of a Bible verse that might help someone in Jacob’s situation not to feel like everything in their life is working against them? (Allow the students time to think of and share any verses that come to mind. Then share the following verses.) Here are a few:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” Jeremiah 29:11
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Both of these verses tell us that God is doing just the opposite of what Jacob thought. God is working everything for our good! And listen to what Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” God wants us to know that everything that happens to us is for our good; and that if we have God on our side, then nobody or nothing can stand against us. So for Jacob, those things that seemed to be against him: his sons being taken away, and the famine that was causing his family to starve…all of that was part of God’s plan for Jacob’s good. But when we’re right in the middle of those tough situations, it can take a lot of faith to remember that!
Maybe you know someone, perhaps even in your own family, who has been going through some very difficult circumstances. If you see that they have become discouraged or depressed, thinking God has forgotten them, then you could share these verses with them; reminding them that God loves them very much, that He only wants what’s best for them, and that He will work it all out for their good, if they will continue to trust Him.
And maybe Jacob did know that, deep down. Because he eventually had a very tough decision to make, and had to leave everything in God’s hands.
1And the famine was sore in the land.
2And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.
It probably did not take long for Jacob’s family to eat all of the food the brothers had brought back from Egypt. And once it was gone, Jacob’s family was once again hungry. And Jacob knew what they needed to do. What did he tell his sons? He told them to go back to Egypt and buy some more food. But what had Joseph told them they would have to do if they wanted to buy any more food from him? They would have to bring Benjamin back with them. So when Jacob told his sons to go back, Judah felt he needed to remind Jacob of this requirement.
3And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.
4If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food:
5But if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.
It sounds like there was no way the brothers would even consider going back to Egypt without Benjamin. They knew the governor had been very serious in his demands. So Jacob had a decision to make. He would either have to allow Benjamin to leave, knowing there was a possibility he might never see him again; or he would have to watch his entire family starve to death. There was no other alternative. And Jacob knew what he needed to do.
6And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?
7And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?
8And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
9I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:
10For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.
11And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:
12And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight:
13Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
14And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
Jacob knew he had to let Benjamin go, and trust God to take care of him. But he also had a plan that he hoped would win the favor of the Egyptian governor. He told his sons to take him a gift, including the best of what fruits and nuts they still had, as well as spices and honey. Jacob also told them to take back the money that they had returned with. And one more thing, he told them to take enough money to pay double for the grain this time. But even with all of that, Jacob realized that it all came down to what God would do in the heart of the man who had been so harsh with his sons the first time. He would have to leave the outcome in God’s hands.
15And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.
16And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon.
17And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men into Joseph's house.
When Joseph saw that Benjamin had come back with the rest of his brothers, he wanted to have him close by. So he made arrangements to have his brothers brought to his own home. But his brothers still had not recognized him, so their reaction to the invitation was not excitement.
18And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph's house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses.
19And they came near to the steward of Joseph's house, and they communed with him at the door of the house,
20And said, O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food:
21And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand.
22And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we cannot tell who put our money in our sacks.
Why did Joseph’s brothers think they had been brought to his house? They thought they were going to be questioned about the money they found in their sacks when they got home. In fact, before they even got through the door, they began trying to explain what had happened. But that was not the reason they were there. So Joseph’s doorkeeper tried to put them at ease.
23And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them.
24And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
25And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.
If Joseph’s brothers had been paying attention, they might have noticed some things that wouldn’t have been typical of an Egyptian home. Whom did Joseph’s steward say had given them their money back? He said it was their God. Why do you suppose an Egyptian would say such a thing? This man had obviously learned about God from his master, Joseph.
Then, the brothers were given water to wash their feet, and their donkeys were taken care of. That is not something an Egyptian would typically have done for a Hebrew. But they didn’t have much time to think about what was going on, because once they were reunited with Simeon, it was time to prepare their gifts for Joseph’s visit during their noon meal.
Once Joseph arrived, and greeted his guests, he began asking about their home and their father, until he finally got a good look at his younger brother, Benjamin. Joseph was not prepared for the emotions that would then come over him.
26And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.
27And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?
28And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
29And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.
30And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
What was Joseph’s reaction when he spoke to Benjamin? He wanted so much to let Benjamin know who he was that he began to cry. But it wasn’t yet the right time to reveal himself to them, so Joseph had to run out of the room, so his brothers would not see him being overcome by his emotions.
But even though he still didn’t want them to recognize him, Joseph made another move that should have alerted his brothers to the fact that something was going on.
31And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.
32And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
33And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.
How had Joseph arranged the seating for the meal? He had the brothers placed in age-order. It says the “marveled” when they realized it. But it still didn’t occur to them who this Egyptian governor might be. Then, it was time for Joseph to set his final series of traps.
34And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of their's. And they drank, and were merry with him.
Do you remember how Joseph’s brothers had felt about him when his father had given him his coat of many colors? They hated him so much that they couldn’t even make themselves say a single nice word to him. So now, Joseph wanted to see how they would react if their youngest brother happened to receive some special treatment. And it wasn’t just a double portion that Benjamin received. How much more food did Benjamin receive than his brothers? Five times more! There would have been no mistaking the fact that he was being given favored status at this meal. And what do you think Joseph was doing while the meal was being served? Do you think he was busy eating? Or do you think he might have been carefully watching to see how his older brothers would react?
And how did his brothers react? Verse 34 says they drank and were merry. There was no sign of the jealousy or hatred that had been in their hearts when Joseph had still been with them. Could it be that they really had transformed hearts? Joseph had one more test for them, to find out for sure.
1And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man's money in his sack's mouth.
2And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.
3As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.
What did Joseph tell his steward to do with his brothers’ sacks this time? Joseph told him to put their money back in their sacks, as he had done before. Then, he told him to also put his special silver cup into one of the bags. Whose bag did the steward put the cup into? Benjamin’s. Then, he sent them on their way.
4And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?
5Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
6And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.
7And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:
8Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold?
9With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.
10And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
The brothers had fallen right into Joseph’s trap. They knew they had not taken the cup, and in their desperation, made a pledge that would prove very hard to keep.
11Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.
12And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.
13Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
The very thing that Jacob had feared had happened. Benjamin appeared to be guilty of stealing Joseph’s silver cup. And the punishment was to be his remaining in Egypt as Joseph’s servant. Can you imagine that return trip to Egypt? It must have been very quiet, as the brothers considered what had just happened, and what was about to. They would be taken to stand before Joseph. And he would surely demand that Benjamin stay behind, as his servant. They knew that their father would never be able to bear such news. So they needed to come up with some way to keep that from happening.
And this was the moment of truth for Joseph. He knew he would finally know if they’d changed by how they reacted to such a dire threat against their youngest brother. And it didn’t take long for him to find out.
It was Judah who had insisted that Benjamin must go with them to Egypt. And it was Judah who stepped forward to keep his promise to his father, to protect Benjamin.
14And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
15And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
What did Joseph lead his brothers to believe? He let them believe that he had special abilities to know what they were doing and thinking. And that left Judah not knowing what more he could say to defend Benjamin. There was no disputing the fact that the cup was in Benjamin’s bag. So Judah decided to be the “true man” that they had claimed earlier to be, and share with him all that had happened to bring them to that point. All that would be left was to hope for mercy. So Judah began by once again bringing up their guilt before God.
16And 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.
In Judah’s estimation, it appeared that Benjamin deserved to be punished for having Joseph’s cup. And the rest of the brothers deserved punishment for what they had done in the past. But Joseph acted like the only one he was interested in was the one who had taken his cup. He was fully prepared to keep Benjamin, and send the rest of his brothers back home.
17And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
But Judah knew he could not go back home without his youngest brother, Benjamin. He had made a promise to his father. And he was now a man who kept his word. So he asked to speak privately to Joseph, to plead his case for why he should stay, in place of his brother.
18Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.
And there it was…the proof that there had truly been a change of heart. The old Judah would have packed up his bags, gotten on his donkey and headed home; not worried about anyone but himself; and maybe even glad to be rid of the brother who got all the attention. But the new Judah was begging to take his younger brother’s place, even though it would mean becoming this man’s servant, himself, for the rest of his life.
33Now 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.
34For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
Judah’s transformation had been real. He was no longer a hateful, selfish brother. He had become a trustworthy, loyal son and brother. And Joseph was able to see that for himself. The test was done, and Joseph could take no more.
1Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
So many emotions must have flown through the minds of Joseph’s brothers. Shock. Fear. And maybe, after some time for it all to sink in, some joy and relief. But Joseph had only one thing on his mind - forgiveness.
4And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
Joseph wanted his brothers to know that he did not hold any grudge against them. He was able to look back over his life, and realize that everything he’d been through had been for his own good, and the good of his family…even his whole country.
The only remaining part of Joseph’s story is a long-awaited family reunion. And we’ll look at that next week.
So for the remainder of this week, here is something to consider: if you claim to be a Christian, and someone decided to watch you for a week, like Joseph watched his brothers, would they be able to see any evidence of the new creature God made you when you were born again? What might they be looking for?
Remember how we looked at the characteristics of a leopard, then a lion, to see what changes would need to take place if there really was a transformation? The same is true for a Christian. If the Holy Spirit is really living inside you, then others should be able to see it in your life. Galatians 5:22-23 gives us one list of characteristics that should be evident in the life of a true Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
And then, remember our memory verse. Not only should there be changes in our attitudes; there should also be things we are doing, as Christians. Can anyone think of something a Christian might do, that someone who’s not saved probably would not? (Allow the students to suggest Christian activities.) Here are a few ideas:
Doing these things does not guarantee that the person doing them is a Christian. And doing these things certainly does not earn anyone a place in Heaven. But according to James, if a person claims to be a Christian, then there should be outward evidence of the change that’s occurred inside. Can others see these in you?
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the story of Joseph. And thank you for the example of his brothers, too. Remind us this week that we can be brand new creatures in Jesus. And remind us, too, that if we truly are Christians, then others should be able to see evidence of a change of heart in us. And Lord, if anyone here has not yet experienced that change of heart for themselves, then help them to see that need today. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Judah promised to do all he could to bring Benjamin back home safely. (true)
2. When Joseph first saw Benjamin, he immediately told him who he really was. (false – he did not tell them till later)
3. When Joseph’s brothers were given their noon meal, Benjamin received twice as much as the other brothers. (false – five times as much)
4. Joseph’s missing cup was found in Benjamin’s bag. (true)
5. Judah asked Joseph to take him as a servant, instead of Benjamin. (true)
Faith in Action
If the Spirit really brings true change within my heart,
There will be some evidence, as old habits depart.
New ones, then, will take their place, so others clearly see
Faith will bring about the works of Jesus Christ, in me.
Lisa DeVinney, March 2018