We left Jacob and his sons in a heated discussion. ‘The man’ in Egypt wouldn’t see them again without Benjamin or release Simeon. But Jacob refused to let him go. He was not about to lose his other favorite son.
Something just struck me as I was preparing to get into today’s reading. Benjamin had become Jacob’s ‘god’. Jacob probably didn’t even see it himself. But when you put something or someone in the place where NOTHING else matters, that makes them/it your ‘god’. Benjamin certainly occupied this place in Jacob’s life. None of his other sons mattered more to him. Not even his grandchildren could hold sway over him. Because of this improper relationship Jacob was willing to let the whole camp starve instead of trusting God with Benjamin’s life.
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Everyone who was in camp or not otherwise busy rushed out to meet the brothers on their return. There was silence in the camp while Judah and Reuben told the story of what happened in Egypt. Simeon’s absence was immediately noticed by his oldest son, but he too waited as the story was told.
When Jacob silenced Reuben about going back for Simeon, Jemuel ran to tell his mother what had happened. She and several other wives were down at the stream doing laundry that day. And this camp made a LOT of laundry!
“Mother, you need to come with me right away!”
“Jemuel, you can see how busy I am. Can’t it wait?”
“No mother it can’t! The men have returned from Egypt and father is not among them…”
“What do you mean ‘not among them’? Is he bringing up the rear? Is he coming later? Did he stop to do business for Jacob?”
“I heard Reuben say that he has been put in prison in Egypt.”
“What! Why?!” At this point fear grips her heart.
“The ruler in Egypt accused the men of being spies and said he wouldn’t release Simeon until they brought Benjamin back with them. Jacob is refusing to do so.”
“How could he do that? I’m not surprised with the way he dotes on Benjamin and his sons, but to abandon your father when there is something he can do to free him is WRONG!” She throws down the tunic she has been washing and begins to climb the bank. She is going to speak with Jacob herself and plead with him for her husband’s life.
Jemuel accompanies her back to the main family camp where she seeks out Jacob. She finds him in conversation with Benjamin. She overhears their argument.
“Father, I have to go! Simeon is my brother. I can’t just abandon him.”
“ENOUGH! I won’t hear another word! I’m NOT sending you back there so you can be killed! And you are not to try and go there on your own either.”
Benjamin bows his head in defeat. “Yes father.”
After Jacob’s firm directive to Benjamin, Simeon’s wife knows she has no hope of changing his mind. She turns to leave before either man comments on her presence. Just then Benjamin looks up and sees her. He makes up his mind to care for her and her children as if they were his own. He feels responsible for her being without her husband. Yes, he has a house full of his own but somehow he will care for Simeon’s family in his absence.
Simeon’s wife is grateful for Benjamin’s help. She is grief stricken over the absence of her husband and furious with Jacob over his refusal to at least try and rescue him. She goes around in a fog most days. Her children try their best to comfort her but they are busy filling the roles their father used to do in the community/family. There is an undertone of discontentment in the camp with Jacob’s decision but as the leader of the family, none will question his authority.
Six months go by and the food brought back from Egypt is exhausted. They tried to ration it but there are so many mouths to feed, including the animals. Jacob had hoped the drought would end before they reached this point. But it’s no use. They have to have more food. His sons have to go back to Egypt again. He calls the brothers together for a meeting. He purposefully leaves Benjamin unaware of this meeting.
“We are out of food again. I don’t have any choice but to send you to Egypt again to buy us a little more food.”
“We can’t go back without Benjamin. The man explicitly warned us that we wouldn’t see his face again if we came without him. If you won’t send him we won’t go!”
This is the first time Judah has out rightly defied his father. He will not budge on this point. The rest of the brothers add their support to Judah. Jacob’s looks heartbroken. “Why are you treating me this way? Why did you even tell the man you had another brother? Were you trying to kill me?”
Gad speaks up now. “He questioned us directly about our lives. He asked about your health, if we had any brothers and many other things. We didn’t think anything of it at the time. We had no idea he would use that information against us! Would you rather that we had lied to him?”
Jacob sits quietly. He is torn and doesn’t know what to do. He CAN’T lose Benjamin! But his family is near starvation.
Judah has had enough! “I give myself as a pledge to you father. Send Benjamin with me. If I don’t deliver him back to you safe and sound, you can blame me forever. We are all starving! If you hadn’t been so set on this matter we could have made the trip twice already. We HAVE to go but we CAN’T go without Benjamin. And if you don’t send him HE will die right along with the rest of us.”
Jacob’s shoulders drop in defeat. “If that’s the only way then I have to allow it. Here is what I want you to do though. I want you to take gifts to the man. Give him some of the choicest fruits of the land, some balm, a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the amount of money to pay for the grain. That way you can return what was mistakenly put back into your sacks and pay for the new supplies. These gifts will hopefully put you in good favor with the man. And, yes, take Benjamin with you. May God himself protect you on your journey and bring ALL of you home safe again. If I am grieved of my children, so be it.”
There are no shouts of joy as they exit Jacob’s tent, only sighs of relief. The brothers are worried about this trip too but with Benjamin along at least they have a chance of being successful.
Benjamin stands to the side of his father’s tent. He found out about the meeting Jacob called. He was pretty sure he knew the topic their father wanted to address and why he was not invited. He waited near enough to hear some of the discussion that took place, but he needed his brothers to confirm his father’s decision for him. He watches as they emerge. Judah sees him standing there and steps over to speak with him. The rest of the brothers rush to their tents and begin assembling the gifts to take back with them.
Benjamin is overjoyed to finally be allowed to do SOMETHING for Simeon. He has been burdened with guilt since hearing of the situation. “Thank you Judah for convincing father to let me go with you! I promise to do exactly as you say. I recognize the great weight you put on yourself for this journey. I won’t disappoint you.”
“I know you won’t Benjamin. You are a fine brother and NONE of this is your fault. We will ALL get home safe, God willing.”
As soon as the sky begins to lighten the brothers start on their journey back to Egypt. Silent prayers are sent up from every corner of the camp. Prayers for protection, a successful journey, and a speedy return. This camp needs food and they need for ALL of their members to return.
During this whole time, in Egypt Joseph kept watch. He knew it would take time for his brothers to make their way home and then make their way back again. After sufficient time had passed, Joseph began to anticipate their return. He couldn’t dwell on it during his days as they were filled with providing for the needs of people, both near and far. He knew the famine hadn’t ended in Canaan as he had people from that region still seeking assistance from Egypt.
Joseph prayed for his brother’s return every day. He wondered at the delay but refused to give up hope. He knew God had placed him in Egypt for a purpose and also knew that God was capable of seeing that purpose through. His faith HAD to be bigger than his fear!
Finally Joseph recognized his brothers approaching one fine morning. He was overjoyed when he recognized Benjamin was among them. He had to keep control of his emotions though. He called his steward and told him to bring the men into his house and to prepare a feast for them.
Joseph’s steward hurried to Joseph’s herdsmen and ordered that an animal be slaughtered and brought for preparation immediately. He then went to the kitchen to instruct them on the meal that was to be prepared and how many guests to expect. Finally the steward approached the group of men whom Joseph had identified. They were standing in line to purchase grain.
“My master instructs me to bring you to his home. He said he will meet you there. You are to eat with him at noon.” He escorted the group to Joseph’s home.
The brothers were worried about this treatment and began to quietly talk among themselves. “This doesn’t feel right.” “I wonder what he has in mind for us.” “Is he planning on putting us back in prison?” “Is this about the money we found in our sacks?” “Maybe he plans on attacking us and stealing our donkeys.” These are just a few of the fear filled words sent around the group.
Reuben summoned his courage and finally addressed the steward. “My lord, the first time we came to buy food, when we were on our way home one of my brothers opened his sack that first night and noticed that his money for the grain was in his sack. When we got home we noticed that each of us had his money returned in his sack too. We assume there must have been some mistake. We have brought ALL of that money back to you along with enough to pay for more food. We are truly sorry for the mistake. We honestly don’t know how it got there.”
The steward smiles at him. “I was the one who received your money last time. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your fathers put that treasure in your sacks for you.”
The brother’s fear ratchets down a bit, but their confusion goes up a notch too. They decide to simply wait and see what lies ahead. As they enter Joseph’s home the steward speaks to one of the guards by the door who then hurries off. The steward turns to a household servant waiting in the entryway and tells him to feed and water the men’s donkeys. Before the donkeys are taken away the brothers remove the bags containing the presents they had brought for the man.
The brothers are taken inside and given water to wash their feet. As they are busy doing this Simeon joins them. They are excited to see him and hugs proceed all around. Simeon is very relieved to see Benjamin among them. Maybe his ordeal is finally over now that Benjamin is here. He quickly begins cleaning himself up too as they are to meet the man. While addressing this need he speaks to his brothers.
“I thought I was going to rot in that prison forever. What happened? Did father refuse to allow Benjamin to come back?”
“That’s exactly what happened! It took all of us nearly starving to death a second time to change his mind” replies Naphtali.
“Well, whatever the reason or the delay, I’m glad to see you all and especially you Benjamin.”
“I’m sorry Simeon. I tried to convince father to let me come right away but he wouldn’t have it.”
“It’s not your fault. I know you would have come for me if you could. How is my family?”
“I made sure to look after them in your absence as I felt it was my fault you were kept from them.”
“Thank you brother! I will never forget your kindness. Let’s just hope we all make it home to them safely.”
Asher prompts the group to prepare the gift they brought with them. “Father thought we should bring a gift for the man with us to gain his favor. We should get it ready so that when he comes we can present it to him.”
They all agree and begin removing the gifts from their bags, inspecting them for soundness, and arranging them within their containers for the best appearance. “I pray he likes what we have brought” comments Levi. As they are doing this task they also catch Simeon up on developments since they left Egypt, including finding their money back in their sacks. Simeon also tells them of his treatment while in prison. “It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. I had food every day and enough water but I missed seeing the sun rise in the morning and the smell of fresh air. Their prisons smell worse than the sheep pens!” That elicited a laugh from several of the brothers and a blush from Simeon when he notices one of the servants enter the room. He hopes he wasn’t overheard or being too disrespectful; after all he is happy to be alive and free.
Joseph finally arrives in the house. He takes his seat and his brothers bow before him. “We bring gifts from our home to yours my lord” says Reuben. Each of the brothers, one at a time, takes a step towards Joseph, bows down to the ground and lifts their portion of the gifts they had brought up towards Joseph in supplication, then retreats to join the rest of the brothers.
Joseph receives the gifts and begins questioning the brothers during the presentation. “How is your father, the old man you mentioned? Is he well? Is he still alive?”
“Your servant, our father is indeed alive and well” shares Issachar.
“And your families; is all well with them?”
“Yes my lord, our families are well and growing” volunteers Zebulun.
All through the presentation Joseph asks questions of them in a non-threatening way. Finally it is Benjamin’s turn to present his portion of their gift. As Benjamin bows down Joseph asks, “Is this your youngest brother that you told me about?”
Judah answers him; “Yes. This is indeed our youngest brother. We have brought him just as you commanded.”
Joseph looks directly at Benjamin and says “God be gracious to you, my son!” (verse 29b). Then he gets up quickly and leaves the room.
The brothers look at each other wondering what just happened. “Did we offend him?” “Was there some sort of emergency he just remembered?” “Is he displeased with our gift?” “Is he coming back?” “What are we supposed to do now?” These thoughts are whispered to keep from possibly angering the man any further.
Joseph, in the meantime, has gone into his room where he is finally alone. He had held in his excitement, joy, relief, and grief all day long. His little brother standing right in front of him has broken through his facade. He lets his tears fall. Alone. So far from his family for SO long. And now they are right in front of him. He only gives way to his tears for a few minutes. He has to get back to his guests. There is more he needs to know before he is certain his brothers have fully changed from the men they were the day they sold him into slavery. He quickly reapplies his makeup and returns to the main room.
Joseph doesn’t try and explain his abrupt departure. He simply orders the food to be served upon his return. There are three separate groups eating today. There are the brothers, the Egyptians who accompanied Joseph to his home that day, and Joseph himself. The servants move from one group to the next in an efficient manner. As they are seating them brothers they place them in order of age from oldest to youngest. They also serve them their meal in this same order. As they are being served, the brothers look at each other in wonder trying to figure out how the servants knew their order of birth. When the final plate arrives for Benjamin they see a HEAPING plate! Benjamin has FIVE TIMES as much as the rest of them. It is a strange thing but it doesn’t receive too much attention. The meal is delicious. The company is good. And the wine is flowing. All fear has fled the room as the brothers enjoy their meal.
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Father God, I LOVE this story! Thank You for letting me tell it so personally. It is one of the most personal stories You share but I wanted to go a little closer to our group. I wanted to feel Benjamin’s heart at being the reason his father was holding off sending them back. I truly believe this would have been his reaction instead of dismissing his brother Simeon’s plight. I could easily see him carrying the guilt on his own shoulders. But it wasn’t his to carry. It was his father’s. Jacob was the one who abandoned Simeon. Jacob put one man’s worth over the rest of the camp.
Did Joseph know this when he ordered Benjamin to be brought to him? Did he know that it would take breaking his father down to save him? Benjamin was Jacob’s ‘god’. He took first place in his life. All decisions were made to protect Benjamin from being separated from him. He refused to put him in Your hands. Why didn’t he bring this issue to You in the beginning?
Probably for the same reason I don’t bring the ‘little things’ to You. I think I can handle them (and not the other way around). When they get too big I have no choice left but to trust You. Actually I do have a choice, but I’ve learned that this is the BEST one to make. All my worry and fretting amount to nothing. Only when I turn lose and trust You do things start to move in the right direction again. Thank You Father for being the Pilot for that direction. Help me remember sooner rather than later to let You do the piloting for all my life. Help me always keep Your throne free of anything else. YOU are my God. NOTHING else is even worthy of taking Your place.