Monday, October 10, 2011

Genesis 42:18-38

When we last saw Joseph, he had thrown his brothers into prison on charges of spying. He told them that one of them should go back home to get the youngest brother, while the rest stayed in prison, to guarantee the arrival of Benjamin. He kept them in custody for three days while he figured out how he should proceed.

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.” This they proceeded to do. (Gen 42:18-20)

Joseph had changed the demand, most likely because he feared God! Instead of keeping nine and sending one home, he does just the opposite. I’m thinking he probably realized that his family was suffering in the famine and would need the majority of brothers to return with the grain – and one hostage was enough. As they were being sent on their way, minus Simeon, they realized that their guilt had caught up with them:

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.” They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes. (vs. 21-24)

Talk about drama! The brothers had no idea that it was Joseph standing in front of them, and they didn’t know that he understood all that they said. It had been more than 20 years since they had sold him into slavery - years of agonizing with the guilt as they witnessed the pain of their father. And they were on their way to bring Jacob more bad news. As they headed out of Egypt, the brothers went with sacks filled with grain, provisions for their journey, and a surprise in every sack: their silver, which they had given to Joseph in payment for the grain. Uh-oh!  Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” (vs. 25)

Finally back in Caanan, the brothers gave Jacob the bad news that they had to return back to Egypt with Benjamin in order to rescue Simeon:

Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.” (vs. 36-38)

You’ve got to love Reuben! At least he stepped up like a man each time, accepting responsibility, not only for their guilt, but here for the safe return of Benjamin. He was so sure that he would be able to bring Benjamin back, he put his own sons’ heads on the chopping block. And then, you just have to shake your head at Jacob, making the unbelievable claim that Benjamin was the only son left to him! Ouch! No matter what they did, these brothers could never win their father’s heart, for he was so focused on the sons of Rachel, his favorite wife. Apparently his concern for Simeon wasn’t enough to risk losing Benjamin! It boggles the mind to think how differently things could have been for this family had Jacob loved his children equally and unconditionally... Are we learning this lesson?

Jacob put his foot down: they would not go back for Simeon! We’ll see tomorrow what changed his mind.


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