Friday, July 28, 2006

When Brothers Dwell in Unity (Genesis 42-45)

The famine reaches across the world – all the way to Jacob and his family. All the brothers besides Benjamin travel to Egypt to buy grain, and they are ushered before Joseph himself. He immediately recognizes them, though they don’t realize it is Joseph. Rather than introducing himself, he plays the suspicious magistrate. He accuses them of being spies, bent on seeing “the nakedness of the land.” Man, are they gunna get it...

I wonder why Joseph did this? I suppose it is only fair, and it is certainly amusing to see the tables turned on the brothers. At the same time, though, I’m trying to see what he aims to accomplish through all of this. Is he trying to teach them a lesson? Getting a little payback? Or just trying to see his little brother again? Perhaps it’s a little of each.

Anyway, Simeon is held hostage until the other nine brothers return with Benjamin. Terrified, they cannot help but see the hand of God’s judgment in this:
In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.
They are seeing their own actions from the point of view of their victim. Reuben then rubs a little salt into the wound:
Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.
The drama is excellent. Joseph is standing here listening to all this, pretending to need an interpreter. Emotion overwhelms him and he turns away to hide the tears in his eyes.

When Jacob hears that Benjamin is required, he will have none of it. Not even Reuben’s offer of his two son’s lives will convince him to let his youngest son go back to Egypt. It is not until they are out of food and Judah agrees to take responsibility for Benjamin, that Jacob finally consents.

From that point on, Judah is the representative of the brothers to Joseph. It is Judah who promises to “bear the blame forever” if anything happens to Benjamin. It is Judah who pleads with Joseph not to keep Benjamin from his father when they arrive. This seems right to me, because it was Judah who suggested selling Joseph into slavery in the first place.

In the end, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them with open arms, all of them bawling their eyes out. Though they meant it for evil, God had plans in all of this: to bring Joseph the dreamer to Egypt and thereby save the Earth from famine.

But I think there is even more going on. This is the strongest reconciliation to take place between brothers so far in the Bible. Isaac and Ishmael only consent to bury their father together and Jacob and Esau still go their separate ways. It is only through Joseph that a set of estranged brothers are truly reconciled. It is only here that God has decisively answered the legacy of Cain and Abel. Now, rather than fracturing into separate groups, these twelve brothers will be the beginning of a nation.

Question: Do you suppose there is any connection here between Judah's willingness to place himself responsible for his brothers' safety and God choosing his line to produce David, and then by extension Christ?

I wouldn't even ask, except the entire book of Genesis seems to be laying out things like that constantly, to the point that I asked those questions as a kid. Genesis seems to command the reader to connect the future with what is happening there.

This is the best I can find, as far as his character:

Now therefore, please let [me] remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

But Israel's blessing speaks louder:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion's cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.


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