Verses of Genesis 42
Genesis 42:21 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE
Gen 42:21. And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us.
THE history of Joseph appears rather like a well-concerted fiction than a reality. In it is found all that gives beauty to the finest drama; a perfect unity of design; a richness and variety of incident, involving the plot in obscurity, yet gradually drawing it to its destined end; and the whole issuing happily, to the rewarding of virtue and discouraging of vice. The point to which all tends, is, the fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams in the submission of his whole family to him. And here we find his dreams realized through the very means which were used to counteract their accomplishment. Already had his brethren bowed themselves down with their faces to the earth: but this was only the commencement of their subjection to him: they must be brought far lower yet, and be made to feel the guilt they had contracted by their cruelty towards him. With this view Joseph forbears to reveal himself to them, but deals roughly with them, imprisoning them as spies, and menacing them with death if they do not clear themselves from that charge. They had formerly cast him into a pit, and sold him as a slave; and now they are cast into prison and bound: they once were deaf to his cries and entreaties; and now the governor of Egypt is deaf to theirs. This brings to their remembrance their former conduct; and they trace the hand of an avenging God in their sufferings. Their conscience, which had been so long dormant, now wakes, and performs its office.
This is the incident mentioned in our text: and, confining our attention to it, we shall shew,
The general office of conscience—
To enter into any philosophical discussion respecting that faculty which we call conscience, would be altogether beside our purpose, and unsuited to the present occasion. It will be sufficient to take the word in its popular sense, as importing that natural faculty whereby we judge both of our actions and the consequences of them. It is given to us by God, to operate as,
[Of itself indeed it cannot guide, but only according to rules which before exist in the mind. It does not so much tell us what is right or wrong, as whether our actions correspond with our apprehensions of right and wrong. But as we are apt to be biased by interest or passion to violate our acknowledged obligations, conscience is intended to act as a guide or monitor, warning us against the commission of evil, and inciting us to the performance of what is good. True it is indeed that it often stimulates to evil under the notion of good: for St. Paul followed its dictates in persecuting the Christians, when “he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus [Note: Act 26:9.]:” and our blessed Lord informs us, that many who would kill his disciples would do it under an idea that they were rendering unto God an acceptable service [Note: Joh 16:2.]. The fault of these persons consists not in following the dictates of their conscience, but in not taking care to have their conscience better informed. A thing which is evil in itself cannot be made good by any erroneous conceptions of ours respecting it: but things which are of themselves innocent, become evil, if they be done contrary to the convictions of our own minds [Note: Rom 14:14.]: for we ought to be fully persuaded of the propriety of a thing before we do it [Note: Rom 14:5.] ; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin [Note: Rom 14:23.].”]
[Conscience is God’s vicegerent in the soul, and authoritatively pronounces in the soul the judgment which God himself will pass on our actions [Note: Rom 2:15.]. It takes cognizance not of our actions only, but of our principles and motives, and brings into its estimate every thing that will form the basis of God’s judgment. Of course, in this, as well as in its suggestions, it may err: for, if it form a wrong judgment of the qualities of our actions, its judgment must be wrong also as to the consequences of them. It may promise us God’s approbation upon grounds that are very erroneous: but when its apprehensions of our duty are themselves just, its award respecting our performance of it is a prelude of God’s final judgment: for St. John says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things:” but “if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God [Note: 1Jn 3:20-21.],”]
But, as its operations are by no means uniform, we proceed to mark,
Its insensibility, when dormant—
Wonderful was its insensibility in the sons of Jacob—
[When they conspired against their brother Joseph, and cast him into the pit, that he might perish with hunger, they regarded not the cries and entreaties of the youth, but proceeded in their murderous career without remorse. But the seasonable appearance of a company of Ishmaelites suggested to them somewhat of an easier method of ridding themselves of him. At the suggestion of Judah, “What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, and our flesh;” they acceded to it, and “were content.” In the first instance, after putting him into the pit, “they sat down to eat bread,” evidently without any compunction: but now they were quite “content,” applauding themselves for their humanity, instead of condemning themselves for their injustice and cruelty [Note: Gen 37:23-28.].
View next their mode of deceiving their aged father. They took Joseph’s coat, and dipped it in the blood of a kid which they killed for the purpose; and brought it to their father, in order that he might conclude, that an evil beast had devoured his son. (How far God might design this as a just retribution for the deceit which Jacob himself had practised towards his aged father, when he, by assuming Esau’s coat, stole away the blessing that belonged to Esau, we stay not to notice: with this the sons of Jacob had nothing to do.) They behold their aged parent overwhelmed with grief, and absolutely inconsolable for the loss of his son: and these detestable hypocrites “rise up to comfort him [Note: Gen 37:31-35.].” Where is conscience all this time? Has it no voice? Is there not one amongst them all that has any compunctious visitings? not one amongst all the ten? Does no heart relent at the sight of the anguish of an aged and pious parent, sitting from day to day and from month to month “with sackcloth on his loins,” and “going down mourning to the grave?” No; not one of them all, as far as we know, ever “repented, saying, What have I done?” For the space of two and twenty years they all continued in impenitent obduracy; and were not made even at last to feel the guilt they had contracted in selling their brother, till they themselves were brought into somewhat similar circumstances with him, and constrained to read their own crime in their punishment. Such was conscience in them!]
Yet this is in reality what we may see in ourselves and in all around us—
[Behold the profane, who have not God in all their thoughts, and who never utter the name of God but to blaspheme it: they can go on for years and years, and yet never imagine that they have once offended God. Behold the sensual, who revel in all manner of uncleanness: they “wipe their mouth, like the adulteress, and say, I have done no wickedness [Note: Pro 30:20.].” Behold the worldly, who have no cares whatever beyond the things of time and sense: their idolatrous love to the creature raises no doubts or fears in their minds: yea, rather, they bless themselves as wise, prudent, diligent, and think that they have done all that is required of them. Behold the self-righteous, who, from an overweening conceit of their own goodness, will not submit to the righteousness of God: they can make light of all the invitations of the Gospel, and pour contempt upon its gracious overtures, and yet never once suspect themselves to be enemies of Christ. Behold the professors of religion who “confess Christ with their lips but in their works deny him:” they will spend a whole life in such self-deceit, and never entertain a doubt but that he will acknowledge them as his in the day of judgment. And whence is this? Is it not that conscience is asleep? If it performed in any measure its office, could it be thus? Yet thus it is sometimes even with those who are well instructed in religion. The sins of David are well known: yet even he, who at one time was smitten with grief and shame at having cut off the skirt of a man who sought his life, now kills the very man who was daily hazarding his life for him, and feels no remorse: yea, after having seduced the wife of his friend, and then murdered him, he continues at least nine months as obdurate as the most profligate of the human race: to such a degree was his “conscience seared as with a hot iron [Note: 1Ti 4:2.],” and to such a degree may our “hearts also be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin [Note: Heb 3:13.].”]
But the text leads us to contemplate more particularly,
Its power when awake—
God has various ways of awakening a drowsy conscience. Sometimes he does it through some afflictive dispensation, as in the case before us: sometimes through the conversation of a friend [Note: 2Sa 12:7.]: sometimes by the public ministry of the word [Note: Act 24:25.]: sometimes by an occurrence arising out of men’s wickedness [Note: 2Sa 24:10.], or in some way connected with it [Note: Dan 5:5-6; Mat 14:1-2.]. But by whatever means it is called into activity, it will make us hear when it speaks to us.
Some it inspires only with terror—
[Thus it wrought on these: they saw their guilt, and the wrath of God upon them on account of it: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother,” said they, “and behold his blood is required of us [Note: 2.].” Thus it wrought also on the unhappy Judas, who, when he saw what he had clone, could no longer endure his very existence [Note: Mat 27:3-5.]. And on how many does it produce no other effect than this! They see how grievously they have offended God: and, not having the grace of repentance given to them, they sink into despondency. Life now becomes a burthen to them: and they choose rather to rush into an unknown state than to endure the stings of an accusing conscience. Hence the suicides that are so frequent in the world. Men live in sin, imagining that no painful consequences shall ever ensue: but at last “their sin finds them out;” and they seek in suicide a refuge from the torments of a guilty mind. But where a sense of guilt does not drive men to this extremity, it makes them tremble, as Felix did; and imbitters to them their whole existence, so that they are utter strangers to peace, according as it is written, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”]
On others it operates with a more genial influence—
[Thus it wrought on Manasseh, when he was taken among the thorns [Note: 2Ch 33:11-13.]. And thus on Peter also, when he “went out, and wept bitterly [Note: Luk 22:61-62.].” V Happy, happy they, on whom it produces such effects as these! They will have no reason to repine at any afflictions that are productive of such a blessing [Note: Job 36:8-9.]. What if the intermediate trials be severe? we shall have reason to bless God for them to all eternity, if they lead to this end [Note: Psa 32:3-6.] ; and shall have cause to say with David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”]
On all, its testimony is as the voice of God himself—
[It speaks with authority. The stoutest man in the universe cannot endure its reproaches: and the most afflicted man in the universe is made happy by its testimony in his behalf [Note: 2Co 1:12.]. We should therefore keep it tender, and be ever attentive to its voice. On no occasion should we violate its dictates: for though we may silence its voice for a time, or drown it in vanity and dissipation, it will speak at last, and constrain us to hear all that it has recorded concerning us. And when once it does speak, then we may say concerning it, that “he whom it blesses, is blessed; and he whom it curses, is cursed.”]
Seek to maintain a good conscience before God—
[Let your minds be well instructed in the written word, and your lives be regulated by its dictates. To have always a conscience void of offence towards both God and man is no easy matter: but it is worth the utmost labour and vigilance that you can bestow upon it.]
Do not however rest too confidently in testimonies of its approbation—
[It will not always speak the same language that it does when blinded by prejudice or passion. At the time of committing this great evil, the sons of Jacob “were content;” and they applauded themselves for their forbearance towards their ill-fated brother. But at a subsequent period, how different were their views of the very same action! So will it be with us. We may now approve and applaud our own conduct: but we must not conclude that we shall therefore always do so. We are now too apt to be partial in our own favour; but at a future period we shall judge righteous judgment, even as God himself will do: and we are no longer certain that our judgment of our own state is correct, than when it manifestly accords with the word of God.]
Look forward to the future judgment—
[That will certainly be correct: for God knoweth our hearts, and will bring every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil. But oh! how painful will be the review in that day, if then for the first time we are made sensible of our sins! What a bitter reflection will it be, ‘I did so and so; and therefore all this is come upon me: I have procured it all unto myself.’ On the other hand, how delightful will it be to look back, and be able to appeal to God and say, “I have walked before thee with a perfect heart!” True it is, this will afford us no ground for boasting: but, if we walk before God in all good conscience now, we shall have its approving testimony in a dying hour, and the approbation of our God in the day of judgment [Note: Isa 38:3.].]
Verses of Genesis 42
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.