Scripture Genesis 43
JOSEPH'S STORY Chapter 6
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Ask children if they know the names of Joseph's brothers.
The Egyptian grain had supplied their home and their families for almost 6 months, but as Judah watched the weather, he knew the drought was not about to stop. He worried. The cupboards were getting bare, the grain they had left over would not be enough to plant. Right now they were eating that too. The sky, clear and blue had turned into a greyish red - dust storms blew everywhere - there was no rain - no hope for more food for Judah, his father Jacob, and the rest of their families. But they were all into denying that there was a real problem so they didn't talk about it much. Finally, Jacob, Judah's father, noticing that the cupboards were empty said:
"Sons, go back and buy us a little more food." (Just a little - maybe the problem is not as bad as it seems, maybe the weather will miraculously change - Jacob was avoiding how serious the problem was.)
But Judah was concerned about more than the empty cupboards. He said: "Dad, that Egyptian governor warned us solemnly, 'You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.' Dad, if you will send Benjamin along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, 'You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.'"
Now the argument started between Judah and his father, Jacob. There was bitterness in Jacob's heart, bitterness that soured his love for his sons, bitterness from faithless grief. Certainly his sons were to blame for his troubles. Certainly it was all their fighting that was causing their problems. And why didn't they lie to the Egyptian governor about Benjamin - after all that is what Jacob would have done. He came right out and said it...
"Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother? Why couldn't you just keep the truth to yourself for once?"
Judah understood what his father was saying. For once in their lives, the brothers had been truthful, now the truth was getting them in trouble because the rest of their lives were filled with lies - just like their father.
But Judah choose again to tell the truth...
"The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. 'Is your father still living?' he asked us. 'Do you have another brother?' We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, 'Bring your brother down here'? It's not our fault Dad!"
And then Judah, knowing they needed food, gave his final appeal.
"Send Benjamin along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. Dad, I guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life." And then he pointed out to his father his fault, his father who had postponed and delayed the problem as long as he could, hoping that it would go away...
"As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice."
Judah's arguments were compelling. Jacob saw in his son an uncommon strength - the strength to lead even his own father in doing what is right, with his dark eyes steeled in determination, the strength to convince and persuade. Even as Jacob gave into his son, he wondered what Judah's future might hold.
"If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift--a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds." Jacob knew that many people, and especially rulers could be bought, and so, being the wheeler dealer that he had always been, he hoped to buy the favour of this Egyptian Governor too. (Ask the children - Did he need to by this governors good favour?) And Jacob added, hoping that an expression of honesty might just get Simeon back..
"Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake." Perhaps - perhaps - Jacob wondered. He really didn't trust his sons. Maybe they had stolen the grain, maybe they were fearful going back and this was all a big story. But he had no choice now, the cupboards bare, he added, making one of the most difficult decisions of his life...
"Take your brother also and go back to the man at once."
He had to let go of his second favourite son Benjamin - the son of his beautiful bride, Rachael. He still cried sometimes about her. He still remembered her, the way she seemed in his eyes more beautiful than anything else in the whole world. Now he would have to let go of Benjamin, his favourite son, letting go of him was letting go of part of her.
And he added a wish
"And may El Shaddai, God Almighty, grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you." There was little faith left in this old man. His life had to many twists and turns, painful memories seemed to color the way he looked at everything, the way he looked at his sons, the way he ran his family. With a wishful prayer, he resigned himself to tears
"I will stay here, I will cry and cry. That's all there is for me."
Knowing that their father and their families desperately needed more food, the brothers hurried off to Egypt with a double amount of silver, and their youngest brother Benjamin. This time the lineups in Zoan were longer, but it seemed very efficient - whoever was running the food banks of Egypt knew what he was doing.
They came to the office of the governor. The man looked even more powerful than the last time they had seen him. His clothing was beautiful, Jewelry was all over him. They were sure that this man must be royal, like Pharaoh himself. This man looked at them, and then under furrowed brow, he barked the order.
"Introduc viros domum et occide victimas et instrue convivium quoniam mecum sunt comesuri meridie !" Again, Judah, and all the brothers did not understand a word. Fear gripped their hearts. Soldiers surrounded them, and the assistant of the governor barked out more orders. Together, now with Benjamin, they were herded like a group of slaves to a mansion, not far from where they had gone to buy grain.
Fear gripped their hearts! Certainly this ruler had them in his grip now. Certainly this ruler was convinced that they had stolen their silver back the last time, and now he was seizing them to make all of them, including Benjamin, his slaves. Certainly, without mercy, he would take everything they had, and make them slaves - just like they had all done to their younger brother Joseph 22 years before. They had refused to listen to Joseph's pleas for mercy.
They had to defend themselves! Judah again tried to use his persuasive abilities - this time with the help of the interpreter, he went to the man who was in charge of the house, a man with many colors on his coat.
"Please, sir," he said, "we came down here the first time to buy food. But, after we left, at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver--the exact weight--in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought more silver with us to buy more food. We don't know who put our silver back in our sacks."
The man listened to the interpreter. And he spoke back to the interpreter in that strange language - but once again, the brothers were shocked to hear a word they recognized - listen to what he said.
"Pax vobiscum! Nolite timere!" And then they heard it... "Elohim vester et Elohim patris vestri dedit vobis thesauros in sacculis." (What word did they hear?)
Elohim, the name of their God, this time they heard it two times. God was here. His name was used. They did not know how, but God was with them, maybe judging them for what they had done wrong.
The interpreter spoke:
"It's all right! Don't be afraid. Your God, Elohim, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver."
At just that moment - the soldiers brought Simeon into the room, his prison cloths were filthy brown and grey. He stank from the retched dirt of the dungeon floor. But the iron collar was not around his neck. There were no chains on his feet any more. The steward of the house took them into the house, gave them an opportunity to have a bath, especially for Simeon. He even provided their donkeys with food. It became clear to Judah and his brothers that things were not so bad after all. Maybe things were going better than they had expected. Together, they quickly laid out their different gifts for the governor who was going to come at noon. Each one, including Benjamin was going to give this important man something precious. And then he came, important people all around him, the brothers bowed and pressed their foreheads to the stone floor, holding out their gifts so that the governor could see them. But he paid no attention to their gifts. Rather he started peppering them with questions...
"Dicens salvusne est pater vester senex de quo dixeratis mihi adhuc vivit?"
Again, the interpreter had to translate.
"How is your aged father you told me about?"
"Is he still living?"
They were stunned that this man would still remember them. Certainly he had seen thousands of people since they met the last time - but still he remembered about their father Jacob. Levi, in his mind, was convinced, this man must have special powers to understand secret things and remember things that others would forget.
And then the governor looked toward Benjamin... through the interpreter he asked:
"Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?" The governor's eyes were fixed on their younger brother. Dread welled up in Judah's heart. If anything, at least for the sake of his father, he did not want to loose Benjamin to this powerful man. Then they heard it again...
"Elohim inquit misereatur tui, fili mi."
"Elohim be gracious to you, my son." followed the interpreter. And then the governor abruptly left the room. The brothers looked at each other in amazement. Something very strange was going on. This man, in a foreign language used their families words "God be gracious to you." Words that they had heard through their father about their grand father and great grandfather. Now Levi was even more convinced - this man must be a deviner, a spiritist magician to know these things. How else could he know the words of his own family. Naphtali, being one of the younger ones, with good ears thought that he heard someone crying in another room, but there were so many people around him, it was hard to tell where it was coming from and impossible to tell who it might be.
The governor came back to the into the room and ordered his servants...
"Ait ponite panes!"
They were ushered to large dining hall. The governor sat at the end of a long table all by himself. Together the brothers were seated at a different table, but as the servants of the governor gave them their seats, to their surprise, they were given seats from the oldest to the youngest. Levi gave Judah and knowing look. Certainly this man, if he could tell their age, even though they were all men, certainly he knew everything about them. Other important people also came in the room to eat - but again at a different table. It was obvious that some of these Egyptians did not like them at all and were not interested in having any lunch with them. And then the real surprise came. They each go a meal that was absolutely delicious - but at the same time just enough to satisfy their hungry stomachs - except for Benjamin - he got five times as much food. "Not fair!" thought Asher.
Naphtali grumbled too. Simeon, however, remember what they had been like years ago to their younger brother Joseph - he had had months to remember that in prison. For the first time in his life, he was just a little bit glad that his younger brother was a favourite. "Good for him." he thought. And with that thought, his food seemed to taste even a little bit better.
The governor gave more orders in his strange language. Dinner was over. They were given the freedom to go and walk the streets of Egypt - see the sights, the pyramids, the monstrous sandstone carvings, the thousands of slaves hard at work building an empire. They even slept in comfortable beds that night at the governors house. Things seemed to be going very well.
When dawn came, it was time to leave. Their donkeys were fully loaded with all the grain they could carry. The steward of the house sent them on the way back to their father, Jacob. As they left the city, Judah said wiping his forehead:
"Wheww! That went a lot better than I expected." They had grain, they had Simeon and they had Benjamin. Things were definitely looking up.
But they weren't far from the city when they saw behind them a cloud of dust. Soon the steward of the house and the interpreter were right behind them with a bunch of soldiers with spears and shields, armed to the teeth. At spear point, the brothers were forced to stop. The steward spoke through the interpreter:
"'Why have you repaid good with evil? Why did you take my master's cup, the cup my master drinks from and uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.'"
"Divination!? I knew there must be something about this man," thought Levi. "How else would he remember so much? How else would he know which of us was older and which was younger?"
Judah again tried to use his strong persuasive abilities.
"Why master do you say such things? Far be it from us, your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks last time. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master's house? If any of us is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves." Judah dared say that because they all had tried to be so honest.
Again Judah was convincing - too convincing. The steward of the house said
"Very well, then, let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame." The steward only wanted the guilty party - the rest could go free. Since none of them were guilty - this was a good arrangement. Obviously someone else much have taken the cup. They started with Reuben's sack - checking each sack of grain for the cup. Reuben - nothing. Simeon - nothing. Levi - nothing there. Judah - nothing either. Zebulun - just grain. Issachar - just more grain. Dan - nothing but a trinket he bought for his wife in an Egyptian Market. Gad - no cup there. Asher - nothing. The brothers were feeling good - they would get home soon and their father would be happy. Naphtali's sacks had just grain. Finally the steward came to Benjamin - and as they opened his sacks, out fell a silver cup, a kings cup, a very special cup.
Benjamin protested - but the protests went unheard.
Soldier arrested him, placed chains around his feet and order him to start walking back. The rest of the brothers were free to go. As the brothers watched Benjamin led away by the soldiers, they had a choice to make.
They could go home now, with their grain and their brother Simeon. Maybe they could make up another story about how Benjamin was attacked by robbers in Egypt, maybe they could fake some blood stained clothing and show it to their father. Their father would die from grief for his favourite son , that would be the price of their lies, but the brothers, finally together, would be home and well fed. They could do this, it was all the steward insisted upon. They had done it before, they could do it again.
Or they together could go back to Egypt, all of them together and offer themselves as slaves. They could stick together as a family and not do what they had done before. Next Sunday, we will find out what they did.