Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Jacob (Israel) Relents, Allows Benjamin To Be Taken To Egypt - Genesis 43:11-15

Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.  And take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake.  Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin.  And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”  So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

Following Judah’s plea and reasoning, Jacob (Israel) relents and agrees to the request of his sons.  I think this is Jacob at his best.  There is a sense of resolve as well as a sense of still being in charge.  Finally, there is a sense of knowing that there is One mightier than he Who is ultimately in charge.

I love the phrases, “if it must be so, then do this”.  When we realize that there are certain things we cannot have our preferred way about, are we prepared, not just to agree to their happening, but to help in assuring they happen well with minimal negative consequences, or they happen with the best advice and assistance we can give them.  Two situations come to mind.  The first is one that many parents experience in their lives and that is the choice of a spouse for one or more of their children.  Unless we move outside the will of God and take drastic action (as some in other faiths are doing these days), there is little we can do or should do when one of our children selects a mate that we may not approve of.  Our part in helping them do that wisely should have been played years earlier as they were growing up and into their teen years.  At this point, our best decision would be, once the decision has been made, to be supportive in whatever way we can and to entrust the new couple to God.

The second example that comes to mind is that of being a member of a team, or a board (e.g. in a church, a mission, an organization).  When we recognize our preferred choice is not about to be voted on, are we prepared to see where God and the board are moving towards and willing to help support it with our own expertise?  I am sure you can come up with many other examples.

So Jacob gives the choicest fruits of his land to take to the Egyptian ruler as a present for his help and cooperation in this whole matter.  Jacob was no fool.  He had a lot to lose and he knew the power of gifts.  You will remember the role that gifts had already played in his own life with Esau, his brother (Genesis 32, and in particular from verse 13 on).  I don’t know about you, but you could convince me to do just about anything legal and moral if you kept giving me pistachio nuts.  If you want proof that the best things in life – whether it’s clothes, or cars, or food – are always more expensive, just consider pistachio nuts versus other kinds of nuts.  There is no doubt Jacob was trying to influence the outcome of his sons’ next trip to Egypt by pampering the Egyptian ruler who would deal with the fate of Simeon, Benjamin, and his entire family.

But Jacob went further than that.  He told his sons to take (and it is not clear here from the wording in the entire paragraph) either two times or three times the amount of money they went with the first time.  At first the text says “double the money” and then says, “and the returned money”.  That would be three times the money.  But at the end of the section it refers only to “double the money” again.  Either way, the idea was that there would be money to buy more grain and money to return the funds the Egyptian ruler had placed in their sacks.  Jacob was hoping that the money had been sent back with his sons by error, and that if the Egyptians had discovered it, they would be looking for it back or the consequences would be significant.  What’s the lesson here?  Jacob knew that you could not do business or have a relationship with someone unless you have cleared up any misunderstandings of the past in a mutually satisfactory way.  Sometimes we want to do just that.  Sometimes we ourselves may be willing to forget someone else’s oversight when a relationship gets back on track.  I am aware of a situation where someone lent another party the equivalent of close to two thousand dollars for a trip overseas and somehow that got forgotten over the years.  The lending party decided to simply ignore the loan for the sake of the friendship.  That’s not you perhaps and I am not suggesting that this is the best option.  What I am saying is, that either these things need to be cleared up, or fully forgiven if not totally forgotten.  Then a relationship can proceed.

Finally, Jacob says, “. . . and take Benjamin”.  This was his beloved youngest son from his beloved Rachel.  He also reminded his sons that Benjamin was their brother too.  You see, in making a hard decision to participate in an option that is not your preferred choice to work well, there often needs to be a personal cost involved.  This was Jacob’s personal cost – the risking of his son’s life by sending him to Egypt with his older brothers.  And not only that, he needed to make sure that the other players also understood their responsibilities.  If we are to make things work for the better in situations like this, we cannot just pay lip-service to the decision; it has to cost us something and we owe it to the stakeholders to ensure the others know the consequences of what we are all doing together.

Jacob sends the ruler a present, ensures he will get the money back that may have been sent in error, is willing to send his beloved son as requested, and makes sure the brothers know the significance of their responsibilities.  Was there anything else he needed to do?  There was and he did it.  Jacob turned the whole matter over to “God Almighty”.  He realized that even though he had done all that was humanly possible to the best of his ability, only God could bless the venture.   Only God could arrange for the Egyptian ruler to have compassion on the brothers and allow all to return safely, with the grain they needed.  What a lesson for us.  Do all we humanly can based on God’s guidance.  Then turn the matter over to God.

But Jacob takes it to the ultimate in being resolved to live the life of a believer in God.  He says, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”  What does that mean?  It means if God chooses to do otherwise, and “If it is not to be the way I want it to be, then He is God, and so be it.”  Are you and I that comfortable in the ultimate wisdom of our Heavenly Father?  Are we willing to entrust Him with our possessions, our money, our children, and our own lives?  That is my prayer for us all as we face an ever-increasingly complex and hostile world as Christians. 

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