When we last saw Jacob in Genesis chapter 42, his sons had just returned from a mission to Egypt to purchase some life saving food. But what his sons didn’t know was that the governor they had done business with in Egypt was actually their brother Joseph, the same person they had sold into slavery 20 years earlier.
So after they arrived back home, Jacob’s sons reported to him about their trip- and the news wasn’t good…
“‘…the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’
…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'” (Genesis 42:33-34, 38).
Jacob may have believed that he had enough food on hand to last until the famine foretold by Pharaoh’s God-given dream was over. If he could somehow make it through the rest of the famine without the need to purchase any more food, he would then be able to avoid sending his youngest son Benjamin to Egypt.
But the reality was that Jacob’s supplies were quickly running out…
“Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, ‘Go back and buy us a little more food'” (Genesis 43:1-2).
Did you notice the difference in the way that Jacob spoke to his sons in the last chapter and the way that he spoke to his sons here in chapter 43? When Jacob’s family first began to be affected by this famine, he responded by telling his sons, “‘…Why do you just keep looking at each other? …I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die'” (Genesis 42:1-2).
Now we’re in chapter 43 and the famine is still really, really bad. But instead of making sarcastic remarks to his sons, Jacob’s tone was now very different: “Go back and buy us a little more food.” There’s a reason to explain this change in Jacob’s attitude and we’ll look at that reason next.
“When the grain they had brought from Egypt was almost gone, their father said to them, ‘Go again and buy us a little food'” (Genesis 43:2 TLB)
Jacob may have thought that his food supply would last long enough to avoid the need to send his youngest son Benjamin to Egypt. But now it appears that he had come to the realization that they just wouldn’t be able to make it.
So Jacob approached his sons with a humble request: “Go back and buy us a little more food.” In saying this, it almost seems as if Jacob recognized that he was the reason that they were running out of food in the first place. After all, he was the one who refused to let his sons take Benjamin on another trip to Egypt. That decision had placed all of their families on the edge of starvation and put Jacob in a position where he had to approach his other sons for help
But one of Jacob’s sons reminded him that there were some conditions on his request…
“But Judah said to him, ‘The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother 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'” (Genesis 43:3-5).
Its clear that Jacob’s son Judah understood something important. At best, the Egyptian governor would simply refuse to see them if they returned to his country without their brother Benjamin. At worst, there was a chance that he might send them all to jail if they returned without Benjamin because he had already accused them of spying.
Once Jacob heard that, he could no longer contain his frustration…
“Israel asked, ‘Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?'” (Genesis 43:6).
We could rephrase this part of Jacob’s conversation by saying, “Why are you making my life so difficult? This is all your fault. Why did you say that you had another brother at all? If you hadn’t said anything, then we wouldn’t have this problem.” But once again, Jacob’s sons had their response ready…
“They replied, ‘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’?” (Genesis 43:7).
It was at this point that one of Jacob’s sons decided to stop talking and start acting- and we’ll look at his response next.
“Then Judah said to Israel his father, ‘Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will 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'” (Genesis 43:8-9).
What do we know about Judah from what we’ve seen from him so far in the book of Genesis? Well, one thing we know is that Judah was the person who first suggested the idea of selling Joseph as a slave in chapter 37.
We also know that he later left his family and married a woman who came from a nation of people who had some seriously ungodly attitudes. Judah was also someone who apparently had no problem in sleeping with a woman that he believed to be a prostitute. That woman actually turned out to be his daughter-in-law in disguise, and when she was later found to be pregnant, he tried to have her killed for adultery until it was proven that her child actually belonged to him.
So Judah has not provided a very good example up to this point, but the Scripture quoted above demonstrates the start of an important change in his attitude. You see, we were told that Judah’s older brother Reuben was willing to offer the lives of his sons in exchange for Benjamin’s safe passage. But here, Judah showed his willingness to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety by offering his own life and reputation as a guarantee: “I will pledge my own life, and you can hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you safe and sound, I will always bear the blame” (Genesis 43:9 GNB).
Judah’s example reminds us that it’s never too late to start living a life that honors God regardless of what may have happened in the past. Even if someone has done something regretful in their past (like Judah, for example), God’s graciousness through Christ can allow that person to move forward and begin the process of becoming everything that He created him or her to be.
Judah’s example also brings to mind something that Jesus once said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what Judah was willing to offer Jacob on Benjamin’s behalf.
Jacob was faced with a dilemma. His family was quickly running out of food but the only food available was located in the nation of Egypt. His sons had already made one visit there and ordinarily, it wouldn’t be an issue to travel back to make another purchase. But there was one big problem- on their previous trip, the Egyptian governor accused Jacob’s sons of espionage by saying, “‘You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected'” (Genesis 43:9).
This high-ranking Egyptian official (who was actually Jacob’s long lost son Joseph) then went on to make his sons the following offer:“‘To prove that you are honest, one of you will stay in the prison where you have been kept; the rest of you may go and take back to your starving families the grain that you have bought. Then you must bring your youngest brother to me. This will prove that you have been telling the truth, and I will not put you to death'” (Genesis 42:19-20a GNB).
The problem was that Jacob was absolutely determined to prevent his youngest son Benjamin from traveling with the rest of his brothers back to Egypt. Since Benjamin was Jacob’s final son and the last remaining link to the only woman Jacob ever really loved, he was resolved to protect Benjamin no matter what.
Unfortunately, that decision was sure to result in a slow death by starvation for all of them. So that’s when Jacob’s son Judah decided that the time for delay was over…
“‘If we had not wasted all this time, we could already have been there and back twice'” (Genesis 43:10 CEV).
Instead of needlessly delaying and placing his family in a crisis situation, it would have been better for Jacob if he had simply prayed and asked God to provide him with the guidance and wisdom that was necessary to deal with this situation. If Jacob had done that first, then everything would have been resolved and he would have been reunited with Joseph a whole lot sooner. Unfortunately, this kind of response is something that people often seem to repeat in the 21st century as well.
You see, people don’t often give any real thought to seeking God or asking for His direction before making decisions. But instead of setting an agenda and later trying to fit God into that agenda, Jacob’s experience tells us that its better to pray and find out what God desires to do in our lives first, and then move forward according to His direction.
“And their father Israel said to them, ‘If it must be so, then do this: Take some of the best fruits of the land in your vessels and carry down a present for the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight.
Take your brother also, and arise, go back to the man. And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!’” (Genesis 43:11-14)
Jacob gave his sons some very specific instructions before they left on their return trip to Egypt. First, Jacob told his sons to bring a sample of the best their land could offer, the kind of gift that was customarily offered to a person of greater social rank. Next, Jacob also told his sons to bring some additional money as well. Half of that money would take care of the amount that they should have paid on the first trip. The other half would pay for the additional food that they wanted to purchase.
Next, Jacob did something that he should have done a whole lot sooner- he made an appeal to God by saying, “‘May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man, so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return'” (Genesis 43:14a NLT).
Jacob’s example provides a good lesson for God’s people to remember today. For instance, let’s take the example of a person who claims to follow God, but consistently makes decisions without seeking any input or direction from Him. When a situation like that occurs, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that God may choose to arrange a circumstance where that person has no other option but to rely on Him. That’s the situation that Jacob found himself in here.
You see, Jacob’s decision making process was driven by his desire to protect his favorite son at all costs- but not necessarily by God’s agenda for his life. And while Jacob may have believed that he was following God wholeheartedly, God arranged a situation that revealed his real priority- his emotional dependence on Benjamin.
While its not wrong to emotionally invest in other people, its important to remember that people and situations may change, but God doesn’t. Jacob’s experience tells us that our dependence should always be on God first and then on others.
“So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, ‘Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon.’ The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house.
Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, ‘We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys'” (Genesis 43:15-18).
Joseph’s brothers were right to feel concerned. After all, the last time they met with this Egyptian governor, he accused them of being criminals. Now he was taking them to lunch in his own private residence. What could that possibly mean?
Well, the only explanation they could think of was that the governor actually believed that they had stolen the silver they had left with on their previous trip to Egypt. Perhaps they thought that Joseph was playing some sort of cruel trick on them by leading them to believe that everything was OK before throwing them all back in jail for stealing.
In any event, the Jacob’s sons’ decided that it would be a good idea to clear up any potential misunderstandings first…
“So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. ‘Please, sir,’ they said, ‘we came down here the first time to buy food. But 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 additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks'” (Genesis 43:19-22).
So Joseph’s brothers went to the servant in charge before entering the house and basically said, “Remember the last time we were here? We gave you the money that we owed you but somehow it ended up coming back home with us- we don’t know how. So now we’ve brought it back with some additional money to buy more food.”
But Joseph’s steward had a surprising response- and we’ll look at what he had to say next.
wn reason, Joseph’s brothers had been invited to a private luncheon with the second most powerful government official in the nation of Egypt, the same official who had previously accused them of spying for a foreign government. There was also the matter of how the money that they were supposed to pay for the food they purchased on their previous visit ended up going back home with them after they left the country.
These things didn’t seem to make sense, so they decided to speak with Joseph’s chief servant to see if he had any answers- and here was the surprising response they received…
“‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.’ Then he brought Simeon out to them. The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys” (Genesis 43:23-24).
Joseph’s steward responded by basically telling them not to worry. In fact, one source says that this steward’s response “…has the force of (saying) ‘everything is fine,’ or perhaps even ‘calm down.’” (1) However, he did make sure to mention that it was because of God’s kindness that they received something that they didn’t pay for.
“They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there. When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, ‘How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?’ They replied, ‘Your servant our father is still alive and well.’ And they bowed low to pay him honor.
As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, ‘Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?’ And he said, ‘God be gracious to you, my son.’ Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there” (Genesis 43:25-30).
As you might expect, Joseph was especially affected by the sight of his brother Benjamin since he was only a little boy when Joseph last saw him. But this passage also gives us some insight into the Egyptian culture of that day, and we’ll talk more about that next.
(1) NET Bible Notes http://net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=43&verse=23&tab=commentaries
“After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, ‘Serve the food.’ They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians” (Genesis 43:31-32).
These two short verses provide us with an insight into the Egyptian culture and society of that period. First, we’re told that Joseph said to the waiters who were serving the meal, “Bring out the food!” (TLB). But did you notice how the seating placements were arranged for this banquet? These verses tell us that Joseph ate by himself, his brothers were seated at a separate table, and the Egyptians were served together at a third table.
So what’s the big deal about that? Well, its easy to understand why Joseph had a table to himself. As a high ranking government official, Joseph was given a place of importance, a place that was separate from everyone who was below him in status. But the Egyptian officials of that day also had a place of their own as well- and that place was apart from those who were non-Egyptian.
The reasoning behind this arrangement is explained by one commentator who says, “…at the time, Egypt was one of the most racist societies on earth. The believed that Egyptians came from the gods, and all other peoples came from lesser origins. There was absolutely no social mixing with foreigners in the Egypt of Joseph’s day.” (1) So these seating arrangements tell us a lot about how Joseph’s brothers were viewed by the people they wanted to buy from.
Next, check out the way the individual place settings were arranged…
“The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment” (Genesis 43:33).
It shouldn’t be surprising to find that Joseph’s brothers were astonished by the fact that they had all been seated according to their ages. One person has calculated that, “…There are no less than 39,917,000 different orders in which eleven individuals could have been seated. Thus, for the servants to select the one correct order by chance was almost impossible. The odds were 40 million to one against it.” (2) In other words, it was so mathematically unlikely that the Egyptian governor could have seated these men in perfect birth order by chance that it was almost impossible.
Impossible that is, unless the governor was something more than he appeared to be.
(1) Guzik, David; Enduring Word Commentary On Genesis http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0143.htm
(2) Morris, Henry The Genesis Record p. 93
“When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him” (Genesis 43:34).
Besides the seating arrangements at this banquet, there was also the fact that Benjamin was favored with a larger portion of food than everyone else. So what was the point of serving Benjamin a meal that was five times larger than everyone else? Well to answer that question, we need to think back to another young man who was also favored by someone in authority. That young man was Joseph.
Joseph was someone who had been greatly favored by his father Jacob when he was younger- and his brothers were not happy about it. In fact, they hated the favoritism shown towards Joseph so much that they wanted to kill him because of it. Now Joseph’s brothers were in a position where their youngest brother had been favored once again. The question was, would they repeat that history once more?
When Benjamin was singled out for special recognition during this banquet, his brothers faced a test that was similar to a test that people often experience today. Would they rejoice with him over the blessing he received or would they become angry over the fact that he received something and they didn’t?
For instance, how do you respond when someone receives a special recognition as Benjamin did here? How do you react when someone receives a great blessing? Are you genuinely happy for that person or do you secretly resent it? Do you try to look happy on the outside but inwardly say, “They don’t deserve to have it so good- that should have been me”?
Its sometimes easy to look at the things that God has given others and feel that He should give us something just as good or better. But it’s important to remember that God has different plans for everyone. The critical thing is to get busy doing the work that God has called us to do and let Him be concerned about any rewards that may or may not follow. This means that its usually better to concentrate on our own responsibilities instead of paying attention to what others receive.
The good news for Joseph’s brothers is that they passed his test. You see, the last sentence of this chapter tells us, “…they feasted and drank freely with him.” In other words, they didn’t let the fact that Benjamin received more than they did stop them all from having a good time.