Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jacob Makes His Decision About Sending Benjamin To Egypt - Genesis 42:35-38

Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. And their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left.  If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”

I find it interesting that when one of the brothers had opened his sack to feed the animals en route back to Canaan, and found his money at the mouth of the sack, the others did not check theirs, but instead they discovered they had been treated the same way after they had reported to their father Jacob at home.  The Bible does not explain the reason for that.  Here is where we need to trust that this is indeed what happened.  The fact that it is unlikely does not make it totally untrue.  That is, it is physically possible for that to have been the case and thus we need to accept it as such.  In fact, that is not a bad way to approach much of scripture, unless something is totally impossible (and I’m not talking about events in the scriptures that involve the supernatural powers of God, but rather ordinary things within the realm of human possibility), then we should accept them as having happened rather than doubting the text.

All the brothers and their father were now dismayed as to what this returning of all their funds may mean in the long run.  Then Jacob starts to speak and says to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more.. .” Was he in some way blaming them, perhaps indirectly, for the loss of Joseph those many years ago? We don’t know for sure.  We do know that oftentimes, people hold such blame in their hearts long after an event and it takes another event to bring it to the surface.  Did he really feel in his heart they had not told him the truth back then when they said that Joseph must have been killed by an animal? We’re not sure. It is possible though that even if he did, the brothers must have wondered about it given his words.

In addition, it is interesting to note that Jacob, presuming the worse, already had Simeon as lost forever.  He was not prepared to take a chance of losing Benjamin, especially with them as he says, “. . . and you would take Benjamin.”  To Jacob, everything seemed to be closing in on him.  He felt attacked from every side.  And where was God in his life?

Sometimes, in the midst of family catastrophe, the words of the eldest son can often reason with a determined parent.  Reuben was that son and he tried just that.  In fact, he went one step further as he realized the seriousness of the situation and the need to get back to Egypt for more food and Simeon.  Reuben offered his father the lives of his own two sons if he did not return Benjamin to Jacob.  Can you imagine that?  Can you imagine the need for doing so?  We do not make statements like that today and even if some of us do, we seem to find ways to say afterward, “but I was only saying that to get his agreement, I didn’t really mean it.”  When you made a statement like that in those days, you would be held to it.

I doubt whether someone like Reuben could make such an offer today without checking with his own spouse.  Perhaps this is possible in some cultures, but not likely in today’s western society.  Did his wife agree?  Perhaps she did and she realized that for any of them to survive, her father-in-law would need to trust his sons to take Benjamin to Egypt.

You would think Jacob would have granted the brothers their wish given Reuben’s willingness to sacrifice his own two sons if they did not return Benjamin.  But he did not; at least not at this point.  Instead, he becomes adamant and tells them all that if they took him and anything were to happen, they (“you will bring”) would cause his premature death.  They text says they would bring his gray hair (his body) down to Sheol, the name the ancient Israelites gave to the ‘grave’ but it also meant ‘pit’ or ‘abyss’.  They first felt that Sheol was where they spent their afterlife, but it is not clear if they actually thought it to be a real place or just a way of describing whatever happens after death.  Later in scripture, in the New Testament, the word is replaced by word ‘Hades’.  And Jacob says, if anything happened to Benjamin, he would die “in sorrow” – definitely not a good way to die.
Perhaps this is a good place for us to reflect on how we will take advice from our children when we are older. Will we be able to listen to reason from the children we helped raised and the ones that have shown us love and care all of their adult lives?  That is what we should be aiming for.  My mother-in-law’s computer was acting up recently and she wanted a new one right away.  I tried to reason with her, explaining what we should try first, what we should consider, and how we should go about buying a new one for her, given her situation and our ability or inability to be available to service it when it needs it.  What a pleasant joy it was to have her receive the advice kindly, recognizing that there was some wisdom in it.  Would that all our parents could be so accommodating in their senior years.
It is also a good time for us to consider what it would take for us to die “in sorrow”?  As Christians, how long should that list be?  Should there be anything on it?  Or, no matter the circumstances of our death or the lives of those we leave behind, should we always go forward into an eternity with Christ in joy, not sorrow?  My prayer is that all of us can get to that state of mind, heart, and soul, that when the time comes for us to be no more in this life, to cross into eternity, that it would not be “in sorrow” but “in joy”.

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