Please read Gen 43 – 45 beforehand
The dreaded day is upon them
As the grain in the bags gradually ran out, the fear in the hearts of the ten brothers escalated because Jacob was adamant and absolutely refused that Benjamin accompany his other sons to Egypt.
Unacceptable as guarantor
The first to offer to guarantee Benjamin’s safe return, was Reuben, but Jacob did not trust him, because he was an unstable man who had on occasion disgraced Jacob’s honour by sleeping with his concubine Bilhah (35:22). What was more, if he had so little love for his own two sons as to offer them to be killed if he did not return Benjamin safely, how could he be trusted with Benjamin’s life?
God patiently waits for the day of cleansing
Twenty years had lapsed and still the ten brothers’ horrible deed remained secret, but as cattle that are gathered from a long distance before forced through the dipping trough to cleanse them from their parasites, the dipping trough which God had patiently built for these men, was now ready. The day of revelation and squaring off was at hand, but so also their day of deliverance from their guilt and shame. The Lord allowed the noose of drought to pull tighter around their necks and they realized that there was only one way out of their predicament and that was to return to Egypt to buy grain from the ruler who was still keeping Simeon ransom.
Hunger has the last word
It was not just about themselves, for they were now grown men, and each had a family in whose needs he had to provide.
They had, had no heart for their father Jacob’s grief when they sold his beloved son into slavery and now they had to go on their knees to persuade him to be allowed to take his other son, Benjamin, with them. Twenty-two years before it had been so easy to use violence to get their will done, but now it needed humbling, pleading and faith.
God was indeed changing them into worthy patriarchs for His nation, Israel and in this He used His servant Joseph, operating in His wisdom to lead them step by step to the dipping trough of spiritual cleansing.
The drought had the last say in the matter. If they were unable to obtain food within a short while, the whole clan’s existence would be at stake. Therefore, when Judah offered to give his life as guarantee for Benjamin, Jacob finally agreed for him to accompany them.
A nail-biting journey
They took a double portion of money, as well as presents for the Ruler and set off for Egypt. These strong men however, were quiet along the way for they were concerned because they thought that their previous payments had not reached Joseph. Would they land up in goal as thieves?
Arriving in Egypt, a further shock awaited them: they were straightaway brought into Joseph’s house and had to wait there till noon. Did he do this to arrest and take them as slaves?
Carefully they explained to the officer in charge how they had discovered their money in their bags and that they had now brought it back as well as additional funds to cover their present purchases. But how ridiculous this story sounded; how could they expect the ruler to believe them? The officer however just waved it aside, explaining that it was their God Who had given them a present. They were taken by complete surprise; how would this heathen know about their God and the God of their fathers?
To put them at ease, he released Simeon from jail and brought him to join them. They saw that he had suffered no ill effects. What a relief!
Oscillating between hope and despair
Their spirits lifted and they prepared their presents to be ready when Joseph would turn up. On entering, he first of all enquired regarding the well-being of their elderly father and then, on greeting Benjamin, he was so overcome with emotion, that he hurriedly had to go aside to weep.
Then, as they sat down at table, they took further courage because they were clearly treated as guests of honour by this ruler. Had he intended evil towards them, he certainly would not have laid a table as for kings.
Then, just as they were beginning to relax, a disturbing incident occurred: the ruler himself pointed each one to where he was to sit at the table, seating them from the eldest to the youngest. Fear clutched at their throats. They furtively glanced at one-another, something supernatural was happening there. Who could this man be? If he knew their ages, what more did he know about them?
But then the food and wine was served and as the meal proceeded, they all cheered up and so did the ruler. But, there was one more unsettling occurrence: Benjamin received a portion of five times that of the others! Something was amiss, but what was it?
A sigh of relief: all’s well that ends well; but has it ended?
At last however, the meal was over and Joseph took leave of them jovially. Then they were accompanied by his servants to the sleeping quarters allotted to them for the night.
While they were for the first time sine they had left home, relaxing, sleeping soundly, Joseph’s steward carried out his master’s instructions to the letter. He filled their bags to the brim, placing their money inside on top of the grain, but in Benjamin’s bag he also put Joseph’s personal drinking cup, probably burying it in the grain.
Not a cloud in the sky
On leaving the city early the next morning, with their donkeys heavy laden with their bags of grain, they were deeply relieved and filled with joy. Why had they been so concerned? Just see how well it all went and on top of that, they were now again in full strength, because Simeon was with them.
Then a thunderstorm overtook them
They had however not traveled far, when Joseph’s overseer overtook them. He was very upset. Had they no integrity or consciences, returning bad for good, treading under foot the goodwill shown by his master by stealing his cup!
Now the men, in turn, became indignant. Such a thing they would never do! Let the bags be searched, and the one in who’s bag the cup was found, was to be put to death and the rest of them could be taken as slaves.
But their self assurance soon abated because in the very first bag, that of Reuben, the money he had to pay, was discovered and likewise in the bags of Simeon and that of the other ten, from the eldest to the youngest, until only Benjamin’s bag remained. Well, at least, the missing cup had not been found hidden in any of their bags.
They stood in a circle around Benjamin’s bag, holding their breath as it was opened up. The overseer put in his hand, rummaged around and removed his bag of money, held it up for them to see, then allowed it to drop to the ground. Again he stuck his hand into the grain, prying deeper, searching all around, in front, then at the back, then left then to the right. Suddenly he stopped, looked up into the frowning, sweating faces thronged together, staring into the bag, then slowly he pulled out something, shook the grain from it and held up the shining cup from which Joseph had been drinking during the meal.
Checkmate! The game is over; now pay up!
Shouts of despair rose up all around; clothes were torn. Benjamin was arrested and had to return because the cup had been found in his bag.
Then a miracle happened: the cold, hardened hearts of the ten brothers melted. These men who had previously sold a younger brother into slavery without batting an eye, were now willing to rather surrender themselves as slaves, than to see another younger brother, the brother of the one they had previously sold, also being taken into slavery. They would rather give themselves in his stead than again causing such terrible grief to their old father.
How touching this was; the God of love was pouring His love into their hearts and they were at last demonstrating the attitude of Christ. God’s plan of turning these hard men into new beings was bearing fruit.
Joseph in anguish
The bags with grain were closed up and loaded onto the donkeys. Together they all turned back, following the overseer along the dusty road to Joseph who was awaiting them.
In his heart there was a big question as he was watching the road through his window: would the ten brothers hand over Benjamin as slave to the overseer like they had done with him many years before? Had they just shrugged their shoulders and continued on their way back home? He saw only two people entering the gate: his overseer with Benjamin, handcuffed. His heart contracted, but then followed Judah, Simeon and all the others, everyone with his donkey.
A new leader emerges
They followed the overseer into his home, fell down in front of him, dismayed as he severely reprimanded them for what they had done. What could they say? They had no excuse what-so-ever.
Then Juda stepped forward, honouring his promise to his father by offering himself as ransom. It is significant to note that he now clearly realized that that which had happened to them, was planned by God. “What will we tell my lord? What will we speak? Or how will we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants,” he confessed his guilt to Joseph (44:16) and offered all of them as slaves. Joseph would have none of that, no, only Benjamin had to remain. Judah was now desperate and rendered a deeply stirring plea in which he told the sad story of Jacob who had had two sons with a certain wife, of which he lost the eldest in a tragic way and how intimately his soul was tied to the remaining younger son.
For such a disaster to befall their father for a second time, was to Judah such a terrible thought that he would rather serve as slave for the rest of his life to save his old father the further grief.
What a total revolution had come about in Judah’s life; was it not he, yes, he, that had recommended that his younger brother be sold as slave? How terribly his father’s grief must have pained him during the past twenty-two years. How many nights he must have been lying awake, wishing he could undo what he had done. Joseph, however, could not be returned to his father; the best he could now do, was to save him further sorrow and to do so, he was willing to offer up his own life.
Only one dark secret he still kept covered up, namely that the ten of them had indeed been the reason for all the distress.
The final blow to break the hearts of stone; then, sweet reconciliation.
Joseph now realized that his brothers had undergone a total change of heart. This touched him so deeply that he commanded the Egyptians to leave the room, then burst into tears exclaiming: “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt”. Pail with shock and mute with astonishment they stared at him.
Before reconciliation could take effect, all of the guilt had to be revealed and that was what Joseph did under God’s guidance when he filled in the missing portion, that portion of the story which they carefully hid from him. He did not recount all the painful detail. All he needed to say was, “I am Joseph,” and the picture of what they did, flashed before them. What a terrible moment it was when their ugly sin was exposed before the highest throne of the country, and to be judged by the judge who already knew all it’s grim detail.
So will it also be with everyone whose transgressions are carefully covered up here on earth but in the distant future, after death, when he appears before God, be revealed in the presence of the all knowing Judge of the universe.
Anguish followed by comfort
For the ten brothers, the period of shock and fear as regards what punishment they would receive, graciously lasted only a short while, for Joseph immediately put them at ease, saying that they no longer had to be tortured by remorse but had to look deeper into what had happened and see God’s hand in it; to see that it was God Who had sent him ahead of them to keep their whole generation alive during that time of strangulating drought.
After that, followed emotional moments when Joseph hugged, not only Benjamin, but each of his brothers. The festering abscess of their evil deed was now completely uncovered and forgiven, and tears of relief, joy and love were flowing unhindered over their cheeks. New bonds of truth and trust could be established on a firm foundation. Now the heavens were also smiling on the Jacob family for the Lord had accomplished His purposes in their lives. One can say that the patriarchs were born-again.
For the first time in twenty-two years, could these men walk with joyful hearts because their burden of sin had been removed.
Forgiving 70 x 7
What a beautiful example Joseph also put by freely forgiving them without their even having to ask him. That, a person can only do when he is convinced that God is in control of everything that befalls him.
Jacob, your ship has come!
The Pharaoh and Joseph then sent back the eleven men with an abundance of presents as well as several wagons to transport Jacob and everything that belonged to him, to Egypt.
When Israel saw and heard all this, he was gradually convinced that Joseph was still alive and agreed to go to him. Just recently he had exclaimed, “All is against me,” but in a moment everything turned in his favour and is he able to call out with Paul, the New Testament writer, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
Winding up the story
But there were still unanswered questions; Jacob would have wanted to know how Joseph had landed up in Egypt: had he eloped?
Had the ten brothers, in the end, admitted their guilt to their father, hoping that he would forgive them and also for the pain they had caused him to bear for twenty-two long years?
Perhaps Joseph had suggested that they tell Jacob that he would explain everything to him once they met. That would have saved them much embarrassment.
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