Scripture: Genesis 42
JOSEPH'S STORY Chapter 5
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Review what has happened with the children (Joseph rules Egypt - dreams come true)
The famine when it started shocked the land of Egypt. Even the mighty Nile river, their god of fertile crops which had been so faithful to them in the past became a trickle of water over rocks. Food was nowhere to be found, except in Joseph's granaries. People from all over Egypt came to Joseph to buy grain, and when news got out to the countries around Egypt, starving people from other countries also came to buy from Joseph's granaries.
This was true for the land of Canaan also - where Joseph's father and brothers lived. Their life had gone on without Joseph, things had been good for them until the famine came. It was not long before they started getting hungry, along with their families and their cattle. And they heard the rumours too - there was grain in abundance in Egypt. None of the brothers mentioned it. But as the family sat around their table eating, knowing there was very little left in the cupboard, the topic came up, Jacob their father was the one to mention it first.
"Some of you have to go down to Egypt - I hear there is grain there."
The brothers said nothing. Levi looked at Simeon. Reuben looked at Judah. The mention of Egypt brought back to their memories something they had done many years ago - something that they did not want to think about. And one thing they did not want to do is go there - right to where they sold their brother - maybe to his death. No one said anything. They just looked at each other.
"Why do you just keep looking at each other?" Jacob pried. "Can't you see that if we don't get some food, our hunger will only increase. I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. All of you, go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die."
All of them except Benjamin, the youngest. Even though he was over twenty years old by now, Jacob knew the hatred that had existed between these half brothers. He had seen them pick on Benjamin. And the fights in his family, at times were so severe that he was concerned that his sons might kill each other.
And so the brothers saddled up their camels - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali - all ten of them with just enough food and water for the trip to Egypt. On the way they quarreled among themselves. What they had done together to Joseph 13 years earlier came to the surface. When they were alone, their guilt would surface. Levi would blame Simeon, after all, Simeon had been the oldest one there when they had sold Joseph into slavery. And Simeon could be exceptionally cruel, he would wound cattle for the fun of it, he was the one who had said "What will come of your dreams now, Dreamer?" Reuben would blame them all for acting without him there. And he would blame himself for leaving while his brother Joseph was in the cistern crying for help. The arguments among them would go on and on. Their secret festered in their hearts, destroying their relationships together.
Levi knew they had done wrong but they had to keep it a secret. If their father found out, the news would kill him in his old age. But secrets can get heavier and heavier to carry with time. After 13 years now, for all the brothers the weight of their secret was getting to heavy to carry - but they could do nothing.
The trip to Egypt, beside the quarrels, went smoothly. Everywhere there was hunger and everywhere, there were people traveling to Egypt to buy food for themselves. They traveled to Zoan, with so many others to buy there grain. Long line ups waited outside gates to the granaries. They waited, and waited, finally they were allowed to come into an office and there, an obviously very important Egyptian sat, his coat sparkled with jewelry and colors, people everywhere bowed before him, they joined in bending their knees even placing their faces right in the dirt on the ground before this important man.
This handsome Egyptian man, obviously some sort of governor, looked at these strangers from a foreign land closely. His eyebrows furrowed.
"Eos unde venistis qui?" he said loudly, with an accusing tone in his voice. But the brothers could not understand this strange Egyptian language. So an interpreter barked at them in their own Hebrew language: "Where do you come from?"
Reuben, with hesitation answered for them all "From the land of Canaan to buy food." The interpreter said to the powerful man: "De terra Chanaan ut emamus victui necessaria"
This time the Egyptian ruler responded with what seemed even more anger. Viderat ait exploratores estis ut videatis infirmiora terrae venistis! The brothers cringed when they heard the translation through the interpreter. "You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected."
"No, my lord," the brothers answered. "Your servants have come to buy food. We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies." Again the interpreter spoke to the governor in the foreign language. The brothers trembled, their faces to the ground, each knowing that at a whim, this great ruler could have them committed to slavery, if not take their lives. They were in a foreign land where they had no rights and no protection. If they would have looked up however, they would have seen underneath the furrowed brows of the governor eyes that were soft, watery. But his response, sounded even harsher!
"Aliter est inmunita terrae huius considerare venistis." The translator was quick now. "No!" he said to them. "You have come to see where our land is unprotected."
Never before had the brothers faced such a powerful man - and he was angry at them. Every one of them felt it inside his heart - it was as if God was getting back at them for what they had done so many years ago. For years they had gotten away with lies, now they were saying the truth and this powerful man would not believe them. Reuben spoke again - this time he felt his only hope was total honest - - - well at least partly total honesty.
"Lord, we are all brothers - all 10 of us sons of one man who lives in the land of Canaan. He had twelve sons in all - the youngest is with his father, and one other I am afraid, has died."
"Sum exploratores estis!" the governor responded.
"You are spies!" blurted out the interpreter. Suddenly the governor started barking out orders. The interpreter spoke as fast as he could in the language they could understand. They would be tested to see if they truly were honest. They would not be allowed to leave Egypt unless their youngest brother also came. They were to send some of the brothers home to get Benjamin - the rest would remain in prison. If they did not return - then the governor would have known they were not telling the truth. And then he threw them all in jail. "Sum exploratores estis!"
Levi picked himself up off the dungeon floor. The odors were repulsive, sickening, the smell of death and urine mixed together bit his nostrils. Yet, somewhere inside, he felt he deserved this. He could have saved Joseph - God was getting back at him. For three days, nothing but darkness, blackness, a few browns and greys, this dirt rubbed into their clothing turning it dark and very rank. Surely this was God's judgment. But such thoughts he kept to himself. They had argued a lot on the trip to Egypt - no use to keep the arguments going on in prison.
Then they got word from the governor. And part of his first sentence sounded familiar.
"Carcere ait facite quod dixi et vivetis Elohim enim timeo." "Elohim," they heard the name of their God in their own language out of the governors mouth. Then the interpreter spoke in words they could understand:
"Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, leave one of your brothers here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your father and families. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that I will know that you speak the truth. Then your brother will not die there in Potiphar's stinking dungeon."
The brothers stepped back. The arguments began.
"Surely we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph." Levi said. "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. Now this governor will not listen to us in our misery."
Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against Joseph? But you wouldn't listen! Now we all must give an accounting for his blood."
As they argued with one another in their own language, the governor watched, his brow furrowed, the interpreter silent. Then in the middle of their fight, the governor turned away, standing by himself - it looked like he might be getting irritated by their bickering. They became quiet.
The governor returned. Again he barked some orders. Simeon was grabbed with force, an iron collar was slapped around his neck and chains around his ankles. He was forcefully dragged out of the governors office. Then the governor again barked orders in his strange language, immediately their bags were filled with grain, bread, good Egyptian bread was stuffed in their large lunch sacks, their goat skins were once again filled with water. Before they knew it - they were back on their camels, their donkeys loaded with grain for the journey. Off they were sent without Simeon.
The journey back was slower. The donkeys loaded down with grain needed to stop more often, they needed more food and water. They stopped just outside of the land of Egypt for the night, Gad and Zebulun were given the responsibility to feed the donkeys. When Zebulun opened a sack of grain to feed them, to his surprise, all the silver he had brought to buy the grain was back in his sack. He had received all his grain for free.
But guilt has a strange way of shaping how we see things. They were for once trying to be honest, and now it would look like Zebulun was a thief - stealing the grain from Egypt.
Levi was the first to say it - though the others had thought it before: "What is God doing to us?" Now we are going to be judged as thieves and we did not do anything on purpose. God is getting us back for Joseph." Now, more than ever, they feared returning to the land of Egypt.
Without returning the silver, this time for fear of what would happen to them, they continued on their way to Canaan, to their father and their families with their food. When they arrived, as they unpacked, they told Jacob their father what had happened - honestly this time. In the past they had told him too many lies - an ability they had learned from their father. Now they were honest - honest too about the demand that Benjamin, their youngest brother be brought back to Egypt, or else they would be judged as spies and Simeon would die. Just as they were telling this story, Naphtali cried out:
"No! The silver is in my sack too!" The other brothers quickly checked theirs. Everyone of them had received their grain for free. But in their guilty minds, the gift turned terrible, certainly not one of them would be able to go back to Egypt because now they would all be caught as thieves. Fear gripped their hearts. Their father was first to speak...
"You have taken away my children. Joseph is no more and now Simeon is doomed because you are all thieves! Now you want to take Benjamin. How can everything go wrong all at the same time. I am cursed!"
Reuben saw the tears and the dread in his father's eyes. Being the oldest, he wanted to give his father some hope even if what he had to offer was terribly foolish and no comfort at all...
"Dad, you can kill both of my own sons if I do not bring Benjamin back to you. Give Benjamin to me, I will bring him back along with more grain, and Simeon."
But Jacob refused. Benjamin would not go. He was the only son left from the beautiful wife he had loved, and lost. Benjamin was now his favorite son - no grandsons were worth his life. To loose Benjamin would certainly be the death of him - death from sorrow and sadness.
So they went in and ate bread baked from their fresh Egyptian grain. Meanwhile Simeon sat in that stinking dungeon in Egypt waiting, thinking, remembering, regretting, weeping over where he had gotten himself with his cruel remarks and hatred toward his brother.
At the same time, this governor of Egypt went to sleep crying - crying because he had seen his brothers burdened with guilt, still fighting, still blaming each other. Crying because his dreams had come true - his brothers had groveled in the dirt before him. Crying because, in all that had happened, as painful as it was, he saw God working, not only to save the land of Egypt, but now also his broken and hungry family.
"How soon will they be back?" he wondered, and pondered as he lay in the comfortable surroundings of his sleeping chamber. He had to get to sleep. Hundreds more would be by tomorrow to buy more grain...
(Latin quotes from the Vulgate bible Genesis 42 - used for effect only.)