A “come-to-Jesus moment or meeting” can have two different connotations; one is used in a figurative/secular sense, and one is used in a spiritual or faith-based (Christianity) way. The phrase is usually used in a secular context and refers to a difficult moment, event, or realization that often precipitates a major change in character or behavior. It is often used when describing the moment when someone understands that they are on the wrong path in life and must change direction or priorities.
The expression has become a metaphor for a transformative moment or meeting – like a wake-up call, seeing the light, or an attitude adjustment. Just because ‘Jesus’ is part of the phrase does not mean it has any faith-based belief in Jesus. It just denotes the importance of the moment or meeting. Here is an example of this term: “When my son was born, I had a come-to-Jesus moment when I realized that my life was about to change forever.”
In the spiritual, Christian sense, a come-to-Jesus moment or meeting can refer to the time when someone first places their faith in Jesus as the Son of God and believes that He died for their sins. The phrase evidently originates from 19th-century revivalism (the Great Awakening), in which preachers and evangelists gave sermons regarding a personal conversion to Christianity. They told their audience to turn away from the devil by coming to Jesus and thus save their souls from going to Hell. These open-air revival meetings by the likes of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and John Wesley were often called “come-to-Jesus meetings.”
In Genesis 42-45, we see a come-to-Jesus moment in the lives of Judah and his nine brothers (Jacob’s sons) while they were living in the land of Canaan during the time of the great seven-year drought/famine. Although the brothers didn’t have a conversion experience regarding Jesus, I believe at the end of their ‘moment’ they recognized that the God of their father, Jacob, had intervened in their affairs and their lives would never be the same.
The story begins in Genesis 42 when the drought and famine had just begun (probably about a year into it). Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel by God) had learned that Egypt still had grain and sent 10 of his sons to buy some of it. Jacob/Israel kept the youngest son, Benjamin (Joseph’s brother by the same mother), with him as he was afraid something might happen to him like what had happened (supposedly) to Joseph approximately 20 years earlier. Because of the 10 brothers’ jealousy towards Joseph (due to Israel’s favoritism toward him), they had sold him into slavery and told their father a wild animal had killed him. All this time, Israel had thought his favorite son was dead.
After serving a stint in Potiphar’s household and an Egyptian jail, Joseph was brought in front of Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. Joseph informed him that his dreams were revelations from God regarding the land of Egypt and how there would be 7 years of plenty (crops/livestock) followed by 7 years of drought, resulting in crop failures and lack of grain for food. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretations of his dreams that he made Joseph governor over Egypt and put him in charge of grain storage during the years of plenty.
When the brothers got to Egypt to buy grain, they were questioned by the governor (Joseph), whom they did not recognize. He had them give their family history in which they divulged that their father and youngest brother were still in the land of Canaan. They were subsequently accused of being spies. The ‘governor’ told them he would test them to see if they were telling the truth by sending them back to Canaan to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back with them. The governor kept one brother, Simeon, as a prisoner until all 11 of the brothers returned to Egypt. This is the moment when the brothers began to realize that their decades-old sin against Joseph was finally catching up to them.
Then 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. And Reuben answered them, saying, Did I not speak to you, saying, Do not sin against the boy; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us” (Genesis 42:21-22). The brothers then left Egypt and returned home with the grain they had purchased.
When the brothers returned home and told their father what had happened, Israel did not want to send Benjamin back with them. But after the grain was consumed, Israel told them to return to Egypt and purchase more grain. Judah reminded his father that they couldn’t return unless Benjamin accompanied them. Then Judah said to Israel, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time.” Here we see Judah taking some responsibility and becoming the leader amongst his brothers.
The sons of Israel, including Benjamin, returned to Egypt and spoke with the governor. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he told his steward to take the men to his house, and he would join them later for the noon meal. “And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed down before him to the earth” (Genesis 43:26). This was the fulfillment of a (God-given) dream Joseph had when he was 17 years old and then told it to his older brothers, who hated him all the more for it. He told them: “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
Joseph then asked them about their well-being and also asked if their father was still alive. After the meal, Joseph told his steward to fill the men’s sacks with food and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. This was the second time they had done this. Joseph also told him to put his silver cup in the sack of the youngest son along with his grain money. The next morning the men began their journey home and hadn’t gotten far when they were overtaken by the steward and his men. They searched the sacks of food and found the money and silver cup in Benjamin’s sack.
The steward, doing as Joseph had told him earlier, asked the brothers, “Why have you repaid evil for good?” (insinuating they had stolen the money and cup). Of course, the men denied taking the money and cup and told the steward whoever took it should become their slave. They said this because they were confident in their innocence. The steward said, “Now also let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.” Each man unloaded his sack so the Egyptians could search through them. They began with the oldest and worked their way to the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes in grief, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city.
“So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground” (Genesis 44:14). This is the second time Joseph’s brothers had bowed down before him. Joseph asked the men why they had stolen his cup. Judah told the governor there was nothing they could say or do to clear themselves and said, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found” (Genesis 44:16). I believe Judah was actually referring to their previous iniquity against Joseph when they sold him into slavery several decades earlier. At this point, he probably felt like he and his nine brothers deserved a life of slavery as well.
The governor informed Judah that only the man whose hand the cup was found would be his slave, and the rest could return to their father. Judah then told the governor his family history regarding his father and his two youngest sons (from the same mother) that Jacob had in his old age. He told the governor about how the older of the two brothers had evidently been torn to pieces by a wild animal many years ago, and now his father only had the one son (from that particular mother) left. Judah explained this was why his father didn’t want Benjamin to come down to Egypt with them, as Israel was afraid something might happen to his youngest son as well.
The rest of Genesis 44 is Judah’s speech to the governor of Egypt interceding for his young half-brother, Benjamin. This is the time in Judah’s life (and possibly his brothers) when he has a come-to-Jesus moment, when he finally realizes the grievous sin that he has committed against Joseph (and his father), and now it’s finally catching up with him. The first time Judah willingly sold his brother, Joseph, into slavery (for it was his idea), he did not even consider what it would do to his father. Judah and his brothers only thought about themselves and the need to get rid of their pesky, tattle-tale little brother. They knew nothing about self-sacrifice or putting other people’s needs or feelings above their own.
God, through Joseph, was in the process of teaching them about these virtues by orchestrating this déjà vu situation in their lives.
Judah told the governor, “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever. Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (Genesis 44:30-34).
Many theologians believe that this act of self-sacrifice was one of the reasons why God chose the Messiah to come from the lineage and tribe of Judah. It was a harbinger of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who would sacrifice his life for mankind’s slavery to sin and death. I think when Israel heard the news of Judah’s intercession for Benjamin, he might have said, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.”
It took a very traumatic come-to-Jesus moment for Judah and the brothers to realize and confront the sins they had committed against Joseph and Israel. The result was a decision to do everything in their power to not allow another brother to be taken into slavery. God had given the brothers another chance to do the right thing and to understand the importance of family and sacrifice.
After Judah’s pleadings before the governor, Joseph could not restrain himself any longer. He revealed his true identity to his brothers and told them not to be angry or grieved with themselves for their evil deeds because God had sent him to preserve life (against the famine). “God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).
You know the rest of the story. Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan to inform Israel that his son Joseph was still alive and to re-locate to Egypt, for there were still five more years of famine to endure. Israel was shocked by the news that Joseph was still alive (and probably what his sons had done and lied about it) but was overcome with joy, as you can well imagine. The brothers moved Israel and their entire households to Egypt, and he had a very happy reunion with his long-lost son, Joseph. This reunion is a typology of our (Christians) heavenly meeting with a deceased loved one when we die or are raptured. Israel lived in Egypt for 17 years and then died at the age of 147 years.
Before Israel died, he gathered his sons together and prophesied (according to their lineage or tribe) about their descendants’ future in the last days. Here is part of Israel’s prophecy regarding the Messiah coming from the lineage of Judah. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:9-11).
After Israel’s death, the brothers thought that Joseph might now repay them for all the evil which they had done to him. So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, thus you shall say to Joseph: I beg you please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin, for they did evil to you. Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:16-17). Then the brothers went and fell down before Joseph (the third time), and they said, “Behold we are your servants.”
Joseph’s reply to his brother’s doubts is one of the great truths in the Bible. Joseph said, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).
Judah and his brothers had a come-to-Jesus moment which led to the complete restoration of the twelve sons of Israel. In part II, we will look at some literal come-to-Jesus moments.