Food for Thought: Things aren’t always what they appear…
Jacob and his household, his sons and their children are hungry (42:6). Jacob is frustrated with his boys, they come across as the kind of people that just stand around and wait situations to change. They may gripe about the conditions but are not actively involved in fixing what is causing the discomfort (42:1). Jacob had learned that there was grain in Egypt, and sends ten of his sons to bring home food to alleviate the suffering (42:2-3). The traveling party of Jacob’s sons did not include Benjamin. As Joseph’s brother, Benjamin was near and dear to Jacob’s heart. There’s this amazing moment in chapter 42, the moment when Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt, and they meet him and they bow down to him. Not only do they bow down, but they do not recognize Joseph. It has been many years since they last seen each other. As the brothers are bowing, the text says that Joseph recognizes them and remembers the dream that he had when he was younger (cf. Gen 37:5-11 – you remember the two dreams about the sheaves bowing down, and then the sun and moon and eleven stars bowing down to him). How will Joseph respond? I imagine that his heart is racing, here is the first evidence in a long time that any of his family is alive, and well, and now they too are feeling the famine and have come for help. Joseph isn’t ready at this point to reveal his identity and talks them harshly. After all, Egypt has been good to Joseph. A new home, a new job and a lot of power. Joseph could have had his brothers disposed of. I imagine that with all the sand available, hiding 10 Hebrew bodies in the desert wouldn’t have been a problem. But instead of death, Joseph accuses them of coming as “spies.” The brothers adamantly deny this accusation and assure Joseph of their collective goodness (42:11). As the arguing back and forth continues, Joseph eventually devises a scheme that would require at least one brother to be sent to Canaan to bring back assurance of the youngest brother’s existence. After three days in prison, Joseph changes his mind, and offers an even swap. He keeps one brother in prison and sends the remaining 9 to go and fetch the youngest (42:18-21).
The brothers begin to worry that God is judging them for this misdeed to Joseph. After many years of living with their deed, they appear to be remorseful for their imposed exile on their brother. The brothers, are unaware that Joseph can understand their conversation. For up to now Joseph had used an interpreter. Just hearing his brother’s wrestle with the consequences of what they had done, cases him to get emotional. Joseph, turns and weeps (42:24). He has waited a long time to confront his brothers. When he comes back to them, instead of vengeance, they brothers are given a blessing in the form of grain, their money back, and provisions for the journey (42:25-26). However, it is on the way back to Canaan that they discover that they had received their money back. Instead of seeing their money sacks as a blessing, they are frightened and are more aware of the work of God in their lives then they have been thus far in the story (42:28). Once they arrive home and share with Jacob how things have gone, he is none too pleased and also takes a negative view of the situation (42:36). Jacob recognizes that he has lost Joseph, now Simeon was in an Egyptian prison and sees the request to send Benjamin to Egypt as too much to take.
Jacob and his sons are unaware of what the Lord is up too. Right now, the famine in the land of Canaan and the famine of the household and the loss of sons are all that Jacob can see. Of course, we know the rest of the story. But, if you have ever been in a desperate position similar to Jacob’s it is easy to see “everything is against you!” It is in these tough times, where we need the Lord the most. We need him in the good times too, maybe even more so, because of our tendency to rely on ourselves. But when there is not enough light to see where you are headed, all we need is enough to see where to take the next step. God had been good to Jacob for many years, and he needs to remember the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. We too, when we hit road bumps and face trials must remember that God hasn’t abandoned us. He is the Beginning and the End, He knows how the story ends. All he asks us to do is to trust Him. This is one of those stories where we are reminded that as Leonard has said many time, “God really does know what is best for us, better than we know what is best for us.”
As we come to a close today, we also need to guard against taking vengeance when we are wronged. Sometime our first thought is to strike back. Striking back or returning insult for insult is not the way of Jesus (Matthew 5:21-26, 38-48; Romans 12:9-21). Joseph may have wanted to get even. The text doesn’t say that he did. As a person who had been mistreated though, and as a fallible human being, his situation would certainly be one where we would expect vengeance . But, notice it is not vengeance Joseph seeks. He does let them wrestle with their own faith, and a recognition that God is up to something in this situation. For the ten brothers to admit that they were wrong in the treatment of Joseph says something about the change the brothers had experienced.
1. What stood out to you today?
2. What is one thing you can take away from this chapter?