Thursday, March 24, 2011

Genesis 42:29-38 Jacob's Sons Report from Egypt

"When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them.  They said, 'The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land.  But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies.  We were twelve brothers, sons of one father.  One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.'

"Then 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.' "

As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man's sack was his pouch of silver!  When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened.  Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children.  Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.  Everything is against me!" (Genesis 42:29-36 NIV)

After his sons tell Jacob about their trip to Egypt, they begin emptying their sacks.  When they find that all of their silver has been returned, they are frightened.  Why would they be frightened?  Well, one thought that occurred to me was this:

I do not know if this is something that happens in nearly every culture, but around here, if a person tries to buy something from a very close friend, at times the friend will refuse the payment and say, in a jesting tone of voice, 'Your money is no good here.'  This is meant to convey the thought that because of the special relationship between the two parties, no payment is needed -- the owner will cover the cost as a favor.  Well, I think that the returning of the brothers' silver was something like that.  Joseph covered their costs because they were his brothers and because he knew they were going through difficult times during the famine.  Perhaps he even enjoyed giving them a hint of his relationship to them.  However, it seemed as though the brothers took his generosity in exactly the opposite fashion, as though Joseph were saying that he would not even accept money from such persons as themselves.  Instead of generosity, they saw a possible insult, and wondered at the potential for danger and harm to themselves.  I am sure we all have seen how sin can distort and destroy relationships because of these types of false conclusions.

Speaking of false conclusions, Jacob's reaction is somewhat overboard.  He is dismayed at the latest turn of events, and sees only the possibility of evil results:  Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone, and now they want to take Benjamin so that he can be gone, too?!

It is interesting that Jacob already seems to believe that Simeon is probably lost to him.  Things certainly did not look promising for Simeon's release, for Jacob would never be willing to trade Benjamin's life for Simeon's.  Also, pharaohs, like other types of rulers, could be capricious about whether prisoners, especially suspected spies, would live or die.  However, God had revealed Himself to Jacob several times, and delivered him from danger in the past, so why should Jacob have absolutely no confidence that God could do the same for his sons?  Why does he believe, as he says, ...'Everything is against me!'?  Perhaps it is only Jacob's initial reaction to his sons' troubling news, but for the moment, Jacob is very upset.

"Then Reuben said to his father, 'You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you.  Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.'

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 grey head down to the grave in sorrow.' "  (Genesis 42:37-38 NIV)

Although Reuben's offer seems sincere, there is something revealing about how it will be his sons, instead of himself, who will suffer any consequences of his actions.  It would, of course, be a great loss for Reuben if his sons were killed, but in a way, it would bring no loss to his own person -- others would suffer if there were any lapses in his care over his brother Benjamin.  Besides, Reuben had already proven himself to be untrustworthy, in that he had slept with his father's wife, Bilhah.  There was no way that Jacob would entrust him with Benjamin.

Speaking of Benjamin, it is also rather sad that Jacob seems to have little regard for his other son, Simeon, who is now imprisoned in Egypt.  Now Simeon had also made foolish choices in the past:  He and Levi had deceived and slaughtered the men of Shechem.  However, I don't believe that is why Jacob seems resigned to losing Simeon.  Jacob has his favorite son, Benjamin, and that is all that seems to matter to him.  He considers Simeon a lost cause at this point, and refers to Benjamin as 'the only one left' (v.38), although his other sons are probably standing right there around him.  Of course, Jacob means that Benjamin is the only son left of his beloved wife Rachel, for Joseph is apparently dead.  To the brothers, though, it must seem as though they are not really in the equation at all.

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