The Gift of Guilt

“Joseph said to them the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’ And they did so.”—Genesis 42:18-20 (NKJV)

Yesterday we saw an amazing turn in Joseph’s story. Having been forced to buy grain in Egypt because of a famine, the same brothers who betrayed Joseph were unknowingly forced to bow before him and beg for food. Joseph recognizes them and devises a plan that will eventually lead to reconciliation.

But before this can happen, Joseph needs to know the condition of their hearts. Would restoration even be possible? Had they changed? Were their hearts just as cold and hateful? He puts them in a difficult position to reveal these internal questions.

Joseph puts them in prison for three days and then tells them to leave one brother behind in jail while they verify their story by returning to their home and bringing back their youngest brother who stayed behind, Benjamin. Their reaction to these demands signaled there was at least a hope for healing: “They said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ . . . But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:21-24 NKJV).

Joseph was moved because he now knew they still carried the guilt of what they had done to him. This was a good sign because it showed they hadn’t simply “moved on” from him. Their conscience wouldn’t allow it, and neither would God. This sense of guilt was the first step towards repairing the relational rift between them, and it would serve to guide and direct the next hopeful steps that Joseph would take towards restoration.

It’s important we don’t think of “guilt” as a dirty word in the spiritual life. Guilt can be good, because it can be an indication of sin or something that needs to be dealt with in our lives. Of course, we can take guilt too far, and it can become something unhealthy. But we avoid that by taking our sense of guilt to God, by allowing ourselves to be examined by His Spirit, and asking Him to reveal anything in us that needs to be repented of and resolved.

Guilt is often the necessary first link in the chain of redemption.

DIG: How did Joseph’s brother’s respond to his demands and why was it significant?

DISCOVER: How has God used guilt in your life in a healthy way?

DO: Examine how God might be using guilt in your life now and how you should respond.