Saturday, November 10, 2018

Genesis Post 62 - The Return of the Brothers (Chapter 43)

Chapter 43 opens with the family of Jacob in hunger once again.  They have finished the grain from the brothers' first trip to Egypt, and are once again facing starvation.

We are not told how much time has passed since their trip.  How long did it take all their families to consume those sacks of grain?  A few months?

Had Jacob been hoping that the famine would be over by the time the need would arise to send Benjamin?  It does not pan out that way, and now their father needs to send them back for more grain.  Judah reminds him of the situation. Um, don't forget, dad:  Benjamin must go or there will be no more grain.

Suddenly, Jacob is called by his covenant name - Israel - in this section.  Once again he gripes about his sons mentioning to the Egyptian ruler that he has another child.

This time, Judah steps in and takes full responsibility for Benjamin, offering to take all the blame if anything should happen to him.  What an amazing transformation of Judah.  He was the one who had suggested the sale of their brother to the Egyptians in the first place.  He then later left his family, married into a pagan family, broke his promise to his daughter-in-law Tamar, slept with a prostitute, and then tried to have Tamar killed for adultery... until it was revealed that the child was his.  Oops.

Note:  it is never too late to begin living a life that honors God.

At Judah's offer, Israel relents.  Judah, the one who is to be chosen for the line of the Messiah (in spite of all his character flaws), offers himself now as intercessor - another picture of Messiah in the Joseph narrative.  Does Israel relent because Judah himself has lost two sons?

Israel instructs his sons to bring all manner of gifts to this Egyptian ruler - pistachios, honey, almonds, spices, chocolate (ok, kidding, chocolate had not yet made its way from central America to the Middle East by then).

Middle Eastern gift-giving
The giving of gifts was and still is an important part of Middle Eastern culture and hospitality.  Because of the famine, Israel probably had to dig deep into his stores to come up with his generous gift for the mystery man in Egypt.

In verses 13-14, Israel says,
Take your brother also, and arise, go back to the man. And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!”

Israel now finally comes to the point where he calls for the mercy of God.  And notice that Israel uses the term God Almighty, or El Shaddai, which usually shows up in scripture in the context of children and fruitfulness.  Although we read that Israel is resigned to the possibility of bereavement, the terms Israel and El Shaddai are combined here to emphasize the covenant faithfulness of God.

Also, Israel's statement on bereavement bring to mind the words of Esther so many years later:  If I perish, I perish.

The ten brothers set out for a second journey to Egypt, carrying gifts, the silver that was in their sacks, and then double silver on top of that!

Silver - the symbol of redemption
Joseph had been sold for twenty pieces of silver, and here come the brothers, carrying twenty extra pieces of silver between them.  A prophetic snapshot within a prophetic snapshot!

Once again, the brothers stand before Joseph.

Joseph sees Benjamin with them, and immediately has his steward put together a dinner party with his brothers. He sends his brothers off to his mansion.

Now the brothers are really nervous.  They approach Joseph's mansion and babble a confession regarding the returned money to the steward who greets them at the door.  The steward puts them at ease, assuring them that he had their money and that their God (and the God of their father) has given them the treasure.  Now even Joseph's steward is giving credit to the One True God!

The steward then restores Simeon to them, and the brothers prepare to meet Joseph again.

I wonder if Simeon's time in the slammer tames him at all.  Food for thought.

Joseph gets home from work, and the brothers shower him with their gifts, bowing down to Joseph a second time, fulfilling Joseph's dreams yet again.

Joseph in turn peppers them with questions about their dad.  Even he must be nervous, because he asks if their dad is well, and then asks if he is alive.

In verse 29, Joseph looks upon his little brother and then blesses him. This blessing, given only to Benjamin, is part of Joseph's plan in dealing with his brothers, as we will soon see.  After doing this, he is overcome with emotion and has to leave the room to cry for awhile.  He composes himself and returns to his brothers.  Guys:  it's ok to cry.  Even Yeshua wept over Lazarus.

This is where it gets really interesting.  The story had started out with his brothers eating a meal together while Joseph was separated from them, languishing in a pit.  Now in the restoration process, Joseph prepares a meal for them, but he still sits separate from them due to Egyptian custom.  He continues his masquerade as an Egyptian.

This Egyptian custom of keeping themselves from the Hebrews is actually an important part of God's overall plan.  Had they stayed in Canaan, they would have probably assimilated into the surrounding cultures, as would have been the case in Shechem if they had mixed with the locals through intermarriage.  But God is about to forge them into a nation, so He brings them to a place that refuses to mix with them. 

In ancient Egypt, shepherding was the lowest of the low of professions.  They would have thought, those stinky, low-class Hebrews!  Additionally, Egypt was quite racist against not just the Hebrews but against most other cultures as well.  They believed that they were descended from gods, and that their Pharaoh was a manifestation of the chief god.

Now back to the dinner, and this is my favorite part:  the brothers are seated in birth order!  Having six sisters myself, this always tickles me.  Every time I read this, I imagine our seven names arranged in our birth order at Joseph's table.  Commentators place the odds of eleven brothers being correctly seated in their birth order at one in almost 40 million!  Actually 39,917,000, to be exact.

Dining with Joseph - in birth order!
The last thing that we see in this chapter is that Benjamin is given five times the portion size of his brothers.  Again, this is part of the testing.  Will the brothers resent Benjamin because of the favoritism shown him by Joseph?  Are they still clinging to their jealous ways? 

I always wondered why Benjamin was given so much more food thaneveryone else.  Why not just double or triple?  Five times the amount seems to be so very overkill.  It's like Joseph gave Benjamin the 11:11 Burgers and Beignets challenge with that ridiculous amount of food. 

But Joseph is really laying it on.   He really wants to know if his brothers harbor any resentment toward Benjamin.  And interestingly, the number five symbolizes God's grace, goodness and favor toward humans and is mentioned 318 times in Scripture. For example:

  • There are five books in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
  • There are five kinds of offerings at the tabernacle
  • The ten commandments are two sets of five (Five regarding our relationship to God, and five regarding our relationship to our fellow man)
  • There are five sections to the Psalms
  • Yeshua used five loaves to feed five thousand people
Happily, the chapter ends with the brothers passing this test.  They all end up drinking and making merry with Joseph.

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