taking tests January 29 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today's Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Genesis 42, 43, 44

Tests of Genuine Character

Taking tests are never fun, but many academic institutions, employers, and the military consider them a necessary measure of acquired knowledge and skills. What they do not measure, however, is character. H. Jackson Brown, Jr. once stated that “character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” Is our character genuine? Since we may not observe what a person does in private, if we want to know with some predictability if he is genuine in his character, beliefs, or feelings, it is sometimes wise to have a period of testing. Although these times are often trying and unpleasant, they prove character.

In the Biblical account of Joseph his faith was tested three times. He was favored by his father Jacob, and when he was just seventeen he had dreams that someday he would rule over his brothers and parents. This created animosity in the family. His brothers were jealous of him because he was favored and they hated him because of his dreams. One day he was sent on an errand to check up on them. When he arrived, they seized him, put him in a dry cistern, and soon thereafter sold him to traveling merchants. He was then re-sold as a slave to Potiphar, an official in the court of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Meanwhile, Joseph's brothers convinced their father that he had been eaten by a ferocious animal.

Next, although Joseph was a very responsible worker, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape when he refused to go to bed with her. For that accusation Joseph went to prison. This must have been deflating to him. After a while, the Cupbearer and the Chief Baker of the king displeased their Lord, and he put them into the same prison with Joseph. One night they both had dreams. With God’s help, Joseph was able to interpret them—the Chief Baker was hung and the Cupbearer returned to his duties. The kindness shown to the Cupbearer, however, was forgotten.

Joseph’s faithfulness was finally rewarded—two years later. One night Pharaoh had troubling dreams which none of his wise-men or enchanters could understand. The Cupbearer remembered Joseph and told his sovereign that this prisoner was able to accurately interpret his own dreams and that of the Chief Baker. At Pharaoh's request Joseph was called up from the prison to to determine the meaning of his dreams. Pharaoh was so impressed with his interpretation and his wisdom that he made Joseph second in the kingdom to prepare for the times which were prophesied in the dreams. Joseph passed a test of integrity and wisdom.

As we saw in our last Bible study, there would soon be seven years of agricultural abundance followed by seven years of drought and blight. Joseph stored up great amounts of grain to be used during the bountiful years so that Egypt would have food to eat and to sell in the seven bad years.

In today's Bible reading the seven years of plenty are over and the seven years of drought have begun. Jacob and his sons are also affected by the blight on their crops, so he sends them to get grain in Egypt. When Joseph meets them, he speaks harshly to them in an Egyptian tongue, accusing them of being spies (Genesis 42:7-9, 14-20). Perhaps he thinks that his brothers might expect this of an Egyptian prince, but more likely he is testing them to see if they have changed. They insist they are honest men, but he puts them all in prison for three days.

On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” (Genesis 42:20, NIV)

This they proceeded to do. They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us.”

Reuben replied, “Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” (Genesis 42:17-22, NIV)

The brothers don't realize that Joseph understands them. From their conversation he learns that they are truly sorry for their former actions against him.

After Joseph tells them to bring their youngest brother back with them, he secretly returns their sacks of money paid for the grain—it is a test of their honesty. When they return home, to their dismay the brothers discover money in all of their grain sacks. Later, when they return with Benjamin, they demonstrate their integrity by returning double the money for the grain, presenting Joseph with a gift, and by telling the truth (Genesis 43:11-22). Have we ever been tested in our honesty? Assuming we were honest, how was that demonstrated?

After this test, there is another test: Joseph's silver cup is secretly placed in Benjamin's grain sack before they set out to return to their father Jacob. The results of this test reveal that there is no longer any jealousy against Rachel's sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Their concern is for the welfare of their father, not themselves; they do not wish their father to die of grief should Benjamin not be allowed to return with them. Their hearts have indeed changed (Genesis 44:17-31).

What about our hearts; can people tell we have changed? Do people see by our behavior that we are Christians who are characterized by love? Or, are we afflicted with jealousy and bitterness? Let's not let the root of bitterness eat us up and affect others (Hebrews 12:15). Let's confess our sins and love one another. True genuine character begins with humility and is possible through a personal relationship with God. He offers us forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life (more...).

Lessons to Live By

  • If we want to know for sure if someone is genuine in his character, beliefs, or feelings, it is sometimes wise to have a period of testing. Although these times are often trying and unpleasant, they prove character.
  • Faithfulness is rewarded.
  • If we have sinned, times of testing are meant to bring us to genuine repentance (more...). This is shown not only by our words but also by our actions.
  • A Christian’s life should be characterized by love, not unrepentant jealousy and bitterness.

Focus Verses

1Chronicles 29:17a (NIV) “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.”

1John 4:11-12 (NIV) “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

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A Look Ahead: Joseph suffered a lot before God changed his circumstances. Then the LORD gave him A New Perspective and a Renewed Hope. How can God do the same for us? See the answer in our Next Lesson.

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