Have you ever been in a situation where you did something wrong and then were about to get caught, so you told a lie? And then that lie was starting to unravel, so you had to tell another lie, and then that lie started to unravel, so you told another lie, and on and on?
Sometimes we are so nervous about our sin finding us out that we sin even more trying to cover it up. That is what Joseph’s brothers do in today’s Scripture passage: they tell another lie to try to prevent Joseph from paying them back for their earlier sins.
Please read Genesis 50:15-18.
One of the first things I noticed about this passage was the Inception-level of quotations. There is a quote within a quote within a quote. The Bible quotes Joseph’s brothers as quoting their father in quoting what the brothers should say to Joseph. It makes it a little hard to follow, and has led me down a rabbit hole learning about how to accurately punctuate different levels of quotations. But that’s not important here.
What is important to note is that Joseph’s brothers have already contemplated attempted murder against him; they have already bullied and tormented him; they have already sold him into slavery. These sins are worthy of grievous punishment! Joseph knows this. What’s more, Joseph’s brothers know this, and they feel guilty.
But sometimes a guilty conscience can lead you to commit even more guilt. In trying to cover up their sin, Joseph’s brothers concoct this elaborate lie that the Scripture nowhere verifies as having happened. I believe that Joseph knows it is a lie, which is why he weeps—he thought his brothers had turned a corner, but they were still living in collaborative sin. I think the brothers recognize that their lie didn’t work, which is why they don’t insist that Joseph forgive them, but instead throw themselves at his feet and seek to be his servants—no longer worthy to be called his brothers.
Unfortunately, a guilty conscience can sometimes be worse than the physical punishment for a crime. When Christians live lives that are above reproach, as the Scripture calls us to, we don’t have to worry about a guilty conscience. But sometimes, even the most holy of us commit sin (shocking, right?). When that happens, John has a wonderful reminder for us in the first chapter of his first letter:
“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5b-7)
This passage is clearly calling all Christians to live lives of perfection and holiness, to “walk in the light as He is in the light.” We would therefore expect Christians to live lives that are holy and above reproach, right? But the passage continues:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
I thought Christians were supposed to be holy, walking in the light, and without sin! How must this verse then insist that we admit that we do have sin? By the way this is not talking about confessing our past sins, but our present sins—the sins we have committed today.
We are reminded in the end of the chapter of the wonderful reality:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10)
Let me encourage you to open your Bible and read these 5 verses all together. God ahead, I’ll wait.
When you read the passage all together you are reminded of a wonderful reality that every Christian knows deep down: we are called to be perfect, and we will be one day, but none of us are perfect yet. God is calling you to stop pretending like life is perfect. This is a lie, and you are using it to cover up some other sin or imperfection, just like Joseph’s brothers.
Instead, confess your sin freely—to both Jesus Christ, and a close Christian friend or mentor. Then experience the forgiveness and cleansing that comes through confession, and walk back into the light as He is in the light. Strive to live for Him. If you fail, confess that and get back in the light. Don’t start digging a hole deeper and deeper by trying to cover up your sin. Confess it to Jesus, be forgiven, and more on. Only then will you be free from your guilty conscience.
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