Friday, January 14, 2011

Joseph Relaxes the Conditions - Genesis 42:18-20a

Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.”

After three days, Joseph visits his brothers in jail and gives them further instructions.  Their choice is simple.  If they want to live, they must do as he had requested.  To make sure he is fully understood he uses the expression, “for I fear God”.  Is this a switch from swearing ‘by Pharaoh’ to sharing with them his fear of God?  Whereas before he wanted his brothers to fear him, it is possible that now he was more interested in having them trust him that he would indeed do what he said he would, if they did their part.

Joseph seemed to be saying, “Look, I know I am in charge here, but I too am subject to a higher power than any man.”  Joseph wanted them to know his word was his word, not because he reported to Pharaoh but because he feared God.  Therein lies our lesson from this passage.  First, do we fear God and do people we deal with know that?  Does your spouse, do your children, friends, colleagues, clients know that you fear God?  Do they know and believe that as a result of that you will deal with them honestly and fairly?  Second, it is this very fear that should keep you and me from abusing our authority and keep us from oppressing others in any way – that goes for our spouse, our children, all the way down the list.  Third, we need to be wary of the individual we deal with that does not have that fear of God.

Interestingly, right after he tries to convince his brothers of his sincerity, he then poses the following premise to them: if they were truly honest men, they would leave one brother in prison; serve the rest of their households by first taking some grain home; bringing Benjamin back for Joseph to see; and finally rescuing their one brother that had remained in the prison.  It was their turn to show good will and trust.

But in that new premise, two key things changed.  While at first, he was only going to allow one brother to go back to get Benjamin, now he allows all but one to go back for this purpose.  In addition, he agrees to send grain home with them on this very trip rather than making them wait until he had seen Benjamin.  Why the changes?  Let me suggest that Joseph basically cared for his father and his brothers, and all their households.  [We need to remember that many of the brothers had likely married and had children of their own by now.  These children would be part of Joseph’s extended family – his sisters-in-law, his nephews and nieces.] There is no doubt that while Joseph may have climbed Egypt’s ‘corporate’ ladder, he did not lose his love and care for individuals, nor his fear of God.

Still, he made it quite clear that Benjamin needed to be brought back and so that they would not be killed.  There is a time to love, a time to show compassion, a time to assist and facilitate matters, but there is also a time to lay down the law.  Joseph had done both and made it clear to his brothers that the ball was in their court.

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