Thursday, January 13, 2011

Joseph Determines To See Benjamin - Genesis 42:14-17

And Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you, you are spies; by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here!  Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you.  But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.”  So he put them all together in prison for three days.

I wonder how much time elapsed in silence between the statement of the brothers and the repeat of the charge by Joseph?  Surely having become aware that Jacob and Benjamin were still alive and back in Canaan must have been caused an emotion to swell within him that was difficult to hide from his brothers.  Some films I have seen have Joseph turning his face away from his brethren but later in the story as we shall see in the actual text.  I wonder however if he also did that at this point to deal with his feelings and to compose himself.

And then Joseph comes up with a plan.  He will test the honesty of his brothers.  “By the life of Pharaoh” he won’t let them go unless they present him with Benjamin.  Wow.  When one reads the commentaries on this phrase, one finds that some first of all that it was (and may still be) a very common practice in Western Asia to swear by the life of the king.  Some have argued Joseph was simply using the vernacular of an Egyptian.  Others would reprimand him as swearing an oath.  Perhaps we can simply state that, spending much of his time in Pharaoh’s court, Joseph became accustomed to hearing such declarations and decided to use it himself.  There is also the possibility that Joseph intentionally used the phrase for dramatic effect and in order to make sure that his brethren had no inkling of who he was – he wanted to ensure he was coming across as the Egyptian he pretended to be.  Once again, we also see the exclamation mark at the end of his demand intended to convince the brothers he was serious.

Joseph was not taking any chances.  He only would allow one of the brothers to return to Jacob with the pressing need of sending his only son left by Rachel and his youngest child to Egypt.  That way, Joseph increased his chances of the one brother returning with Benjamin, as it was the only way Jacob would get all his sons that he knew were alive back; and it was the only way they would be sold the grain they very desperately needed to survive.  That was the plan and the text says the rest “would remain confined” until the one brother returned with Benjamin.  Having given them the conditions of any sale of grain or better still the conditions of being charged as spies, it appears he put them in prison to think it over for three days.

As I write this, I stop to think about any lesson contained in this small passage for us.  It seems to be just an account of what happened.  But on further reflection, a question does come to mind.  To what extent would we go to be reunited with our family and/or with those friends, colleagues or fellow believers with whom relationships have been broken?  Would we resort to trickery?  Would we make them go to great efforts to prove themselves?  Did Joseph do the right thing?  Would we plan a slow but surer way back into their hearts or would we go for broke upon first seeing them after many years of separation?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  And I certainly would not pretend to know them for your particular situation.  I do know, having been separated from others in some of the ways referred to here, that much depends on the situation.  More importantly, much depends on how well we seek God’s guidance and direction in this regard and then how closely we follow it.  My hope is that you will be sensitive first to God and then to those with whom you need to reconcile.

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