What Does Repentance Look Like?

Answer me a few simple questions:

  1. What does repentance mean?
  2. How do you tell the difference between true repentance and false?

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:10 "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death."

Repentance means more than just being sorry you did something it also means being sorry enough to not do it again. It does not, however, mean that you are sorry you got caught.

Thomas Edison was a heavy smoker, and he was annoyed to find that his friends helped themselves liberally to his expensive Havana cigars. He decided to play a trick on them. He had a tobacconist construct a lot of cigars made entirely of cabbage leaves and brown paper wrappings. He left these on his desk and, a day later, departed for a short trip. When he returned, his Havanas started disappearing again.

"But what did you do with those-er-new cigars I ordered?" Edison asked his secretary.
"Oh, those," said his secretary. "I took it for granted that those were something special. So I put that box in your suitcase."
Edison was aghast and exclaimed, "You mean to say that I smoked every one of those things myself!"[1]

Intending to trick others, he was himself the victim of his own ruse. That is exactly what happens in Genesis chapter 44 where Joseph's brothers are finally forced to come face to face with their own sin. What happens in that crucial moment determines their fate. And sets for us a model of repentance.

1 The Trap

Let's start by reading Genesis 44:1-3

In this final test of Repentance – Joseph wants to know what will happen when the favored son is threatened with captivity. Will they let him go and deliver themselves? Or have they really changed?

Since no man sees the heart a test is necessary to determine what's in it. While we don't really have a chance to hear what the plan is from Joseph himself, the results speak for themselves. He wants to determine if His brothers have really repented or not.

By putting the cup in Benjamin's sack he puts his little brother into a situation which the others could only interpret as a danger to his life. How the other brothers reacted to that danger would be quite telling. They had one of two choices, they could run away leaving Benjamin to imprisonment or death; or they could stand with him no matter what the results of that might be.

But Joseph did more than just put his cup in Benjamin's sack, he also had everyone's money returned into their sacks again. The last time this had happened the brothers all assumed that God was judging them. So why do it again? More than likely it was in order to restore the feeling in all the brothers that they were each guilty before God.

"The discovery of the cup in his possession "¦ might have fastened a painful suspicion of guilt on the youngest brother; but the sight of the money in each man's sack would lead all to the same conclusion, that Benjamin was just as innocent as themselves, although the additional circumstance of the cup being found in his sack would bring him into greater trouble and danger."[2]

George Williams writes that the test was "skillfully designed so as to find out if they were still indifferent to the cries of a captive brother and the tears of a bereaved father." [3]

2 The Test

With the trap in place the brothers are sent off early in the morning. It was time for the test, you can almost imagine how happy they must have felt and how satisfied that they had escaped all danger. They had managed once again to get away with what they were certain by now was Joseph's murder. The next few weeks of walking would be spent relaxed rather than anxious – they thought they were in the clear. This is where all the drama really begins.

Let's read verses 4-17.

Too many people think they're in the clear with God when in fact they are in grave danger. They fool themselves into thinking that God has forgotten or does not see their sin, or he doesn't care or worse is too weak to do anything about it. But judgment day is coming, and it will come like a thief in the night.

While men are saying peace peace, disaster will overtake them in an instant. We are surrounded by people who consider themselves innocent simply because they haven't done what someone else has done but that doesn't make them innocent. All kinds of people justify themselves saying, they've never murdered or never committed adultery, or that someone is worse than they are, but there is no one righteous, everyone has sinned against God in something. The brothers might protest innocence here because they indeed didn't think they had done anything wrong, but as they were about to confess soon enough – their greater sin had found them.

Now there's one more application here: when the servant came to "investigate" the brothers were so certain of their innocence that they swore an oath there in verse nine.
Genesis 44:9 "With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's slaves."

This is a good time for the reminder against foolish oaths. Once an oath is spoken it comes back to haunt us. Jesus told us to let our yes be yes and our no be no.[4] Everything else comes from the enemy. Since God himself makes covenants The Lord is not concerned with covenantal agreements (such as marriage, or business agreements) but is most concerned with the swearing of an oath such as this one which was intended to justify the men. It would have been sufficient for them to set their bags down and ask the man to search.

Though it isn't mentioned here in the text – we know from the first verse of the chapter that each man's money was in each one's bag. I would assume that each time a bag was opened and the money found they would alternate between the recognition that God was judging them as in the last trip, coupled with some breed of relief that at least the cup wasn't there. But I wonder if they trembled knowing, as they thought, that as God had put the money there that he could also have put the cup in one of their bags.

I wonder if the servant of Joseph eyed each man suspiciously as he uncovered their money again. "How convenient," he may have wondered aloud to their dismay. But the death-knell rang out when Benjamin's sack was opened and first his money and then the cup was also found. Each man staring at the money that had been in his own sack would recognize that this was of God (v16). If anywhere it was here that Judah recognized how foolish and rash his oath had been. Do not swear by anything, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything else comes from the evil one.

Dejected they return with Benjamin and throw themselves as Joseph's feet begging for mercy.

3 The Substitution.

Read Judah's eloquent speech from verses 18-34.

"Twenty-two years earlier, Judah engineered the selling of Joseph into slavery; now he is prepared to offer himself as a slave so that the other son of Rachel can be set free. Twenty-two years earlier, he stood with his brothers and silently watched when the bloodied tunic they had brought to Jacob sent their father into a fit of anguish; now he is willing to do anything in order not to have to see his father suffer that way again."[5]

This comment on "torn to pieces" may be the first time that Joseph has ever heard the story they gave their father. I'm sure it was painful beyond measure to Joseph to hear this.

He acknowledges the favoritism which Jacob has for Benjamin and does so without animosity. "The acknowledgment of his father's favoritism is striking, for it was Jacob's love of Joseph that caused his brothers to hate him. Now this same favoritism is cited as ground for mercy; the other brothers, or at least Judah, have accepted that love for their father must override all other grudges."[6]

It has come full circle. The deception they played on their father has come back to haunt them. Judah's intercession is a model of prayer. Martin Luther said: "I would give very much to be able to pray to our Lord God as well as Judah prays to Joseph here; for it is a perfect specimen of prayer, the true feeling that there ought to be in prayer." [7]

What an awesome intercession in these last several verses. Judah demonstrates the heart of prayer as he humbles himself greatly before Joseph and then squarely places himself between the mysterious ruler of Egypt and Benjamin. Let the hammer fall upon him, but spare the boy. The intercession of Judah may have mirrored the conversations between God the Son and God the Father as they discussed what should be done to us. The intercession is capstoned with the offer of exchange – Slavery for freedom, death for life, payment for debt.

What a change has been worked in Judah's life! And what a parallel to Christ – the descendant of Judah. Jesus, seeing that it would break the Father's heart to lose the truly guilty children of Adam opted rather to have his own life forfeit for our own. Our Lord became our Savior even as Judah was willing to become the savior for his favored brother.

The old animosity is gone, guilt, grief and the hardship of watching their father suffer had broken the stony hearts of Jacob's sons.

Repentance has happened, and with it the pathway to restoration is opened.

Repentance is what happens when grief over our sin causes us to do more than simply grieve but invokes a change.

So tell me, has repentance happened in your life?


[1]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.

[2] Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., Ge 44:1. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

[3] MacDonald, William, and Arthur Farstad. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, Ge 44:14. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995. Quoting (44:14"“17) Williams, Student's Commentary, p. 39.

[4] Matthew 5:37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil. NASB95

[5] Wenham, Gordon J. Vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary, Page 426. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

[6] Wenham, Gordon J. Vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary, Page 426. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

[7] Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament., Vol. 1, Page 234. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002.