And Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.
7. Joseph saw his brothers, and knew them; but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. Where do you come from? he said. They said: From the land of Canaan, to buy food. (Gen. 42:6b-7)
God plays the same game in the world with His goodness, as Wisdom says in Prov. 8:30–31: “I was … rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.” In this way the Father’s Wisdom, the incarnate Son of God, speaks and testifies that He is playing with, taking delight in, and living in a winning and kindly manner with men, and that this game affords Him the greatest pleasure.
And yet for us this is a very sad death. Reducing man to nothing, giving him up to death, and afflicting him with disasters and troubles without number—this is not playing, is it? It is a game of a cat with a mouse, and this is the death of the mouse. Accordingly, these things are written in order that we may understand the counsel of the divine Wisdom and the wonderful way in which the saints are led. This appears to be so sad and bitter that the spectators—angels, devils, and the world—think that we have been devoured and destroyed. Indeed, we ourselves think that we have been deserted, despised, and cast off.
This is indeed the source of the words (Ps. 31:22)—“I am driven far from Thy sight”—and again (Ps. 44:23)—“Why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Awake!” Jacob undoubtedly repeated such exclamations rather frequently throughout his life in many great troubles, and from the beginning these were the perpetual sobs and sighs of all the patriarchs. For what could be said or thought that would be more wretched than those first fathers, Adam, Noah, and Abraham? Nevertheless, in the catastrophe of the comedy it appears that God has been playing with them in a most kindly manner and has not dealt otherwise with them than with dearly beloved sons.
For thus the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by Him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” (12:5–7.)
But just as in the discipline of a household the correction of children is by no means pleasing, so the chastening of the Lord seems exceedingly hard and bitter. Yet “blessed is the man,” says James, “who endures trial; for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him” (1:12). Therefore let us conclude for certain that disasters, sobs, sighs, and our death are nothing else than a most pleasant and beautiful game of God’s goodness.
But how many understand or believe this? If we could persuade ourselves of this, we would be truly happy and completely prepared to endure any evils whatever in a happy frame of mind. But when I reflect that I am a sinner and that I am being punished on account of my faults, I judge far differently. For I do not feel that God is my Father, that He is good and merciful, but that He is the devil himself. Therefore you should know that God is almighty and that for this reason a serious game becomes Him and is worthy of such great majesty. And one must learn, and accustom oneself to, the things in which He delights and His games, as Ps. 4:3 states. “Know. You must learn. Nature and reason do not teach this. Otherwise there would be no need to learn it from Me.” The psalm tells you to learn, to listen, and to let it be told to you whenever you are disturbed by various difficulties and by troubles of every kind. Consider that God is playing with you, and that this game is wonderful for you and gives pleasure to God. For if He did not embrace you with His fatherly heart, He would not play with you this way. Therefore this is proof of His ineffable mercy toward you, that you are numbered among those with whom God is pleased, and that He takes delight in you. Accordingly He gives you His promise, Word, and Sacrament as most certain symbols and testimonies of grace, that He has adopted you as His son, and that He requires nothing else than that you bear His games, which are pleasing to Him and salutary to you.
Luther’s works, vol. 7: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44 p 225-226