Sunday, July 29, 2012

Genesis Chapter 43 ~ Judah's Substitution, Return to Egypt, & Joseph's Benevolence

Genesis Chapter 43

Go Buy More Food
The famine was still going strong, and Jacob's family had eaten all their food, so Jacob said to his sons again, "Go again, buy us a little food." (vs. 1) Judah told him that the man told them they wouldn't see his face if they did not bring their youngest brother. So he said, if you send Benjamin with us we will go buy food, but if you don't send him we won't. Israel (Jacob) responded asking why they mentioned Benjamin at all. The brothers told him that "the man" had questioned them carefully asking about Jacob and if they had another brother, so they told him (vs. 7). 

Judah's Offer of Substitution
Judah said, "Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice." (vs. 8-10) Israel (Jacob) then said that if they had to go then they should take a present, some choice fruits, a little balm and honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, almonds, double the money (i.e. the money they mistakenly returned with), and their brother, Benjamin. And he said, "May God Almighty [El Shaddai] grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." (vs. 14)

The Brothers Before Joseph
The brothers took the present, doubled their money, and took Benjamin and went to Egypt and stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin he told his steward to bring the men into the house, slaughter an animal and make a meal for them, and the steward did this. The brothers were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph's house, and thought it was because of the money they returned with, and worried that he would assault them (overpower them and seize them as slaves). When they arrived at the door they began to plead, and confessed how they found their money, and how they had brought it back again. The steward replied saying, "Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks. I received your money." (vs. 23) He then brought Simeon to them, he gave them water, and they washed their feet, and he gave their donkeys food, then they prepared their present for Joseph, for He was coming at noon to eat there.

When Joseph arrived they brought him in and gave him the present they brought, and bowed down to him on the ground. He asked about their welfare and asked about Jacob and if he was alive. They responded that he is alive and well, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. Joseph lifted up his eyes and saw Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, "Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!" (vs. 29)

Joseph's Weeping at the Sight of Benjamin
The text then says this: "Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, 'Serve the food.'" (vs. 30-31)

The servants served Joseph by himself, and the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians by themselves - because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, it's an abomination to them (vs. 32). They all seem to have been eating in the same room though, only they were apart from each other, because the Bible says that they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and they looked at each other in amazement (vs. 33).

Portions were taken to the brothers from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was 5 times as much as any of theirs. They drank and were merry [or "and became intoxicated"] with him.

Reflections on Genesis 43
First, the brothers left Simeon in Egypt to come home, and in chapter 43 they've been there for some time. Notice that Judah says that they could have returned twice in the time that has passed (vs. 8-10). It seems that quite some time has passed.

SecondIt may appear that Judah is lying to Jacob when he describes the specificity of Joseph's questioning them in verse 7, particularly asking how their father was and asking after another brother of theirs. Those details aren't outlined in chapter 42, but it doesn't seem like he's lying because Judah says this to Joseph's face in Genesis 44:18-19.

Third, what are we to do with the steward's reply: "Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks. I received your money." (vs. 23) We know it was Joseph by way of his steward that the money was put in the sacks (42:25). A few things to note about this: (1) The steward here is probably telling the brothers what Joseph told him to say. (2) The brothers paid their money for the grain, and by God's providence through Joseph's command, the steward filled their sacks, they had rightly paid what was owed. (3) The steward's statement is not false, God, through the instruments of Joseph and the steward put the money back in the sack. God works through means, and here the God of their Father, Jacob, worked through means to put money back in their sacks. Later, Joseph would recognize this explicitly as well saying, "And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life." (45:5) (4) All of this said, this is creating a false sense of security for the brothers in what Joseph will do next in chapter 44. Nahum M. Sarna wrote this about this verse, "The reassuring reply of the steward is intelligible only on the assumption that he is privy to Joseph's scheme. His purpose is to lull them into a false sense of relief, reinforced by the release of Simeon." (Sarna, 301) I think Sarna is reading more into the "priviness" and "purpose" of the steward than the text allows here. The intelligibility of the steward's words does not hang on reading "behind the text" to perceive attitudes and intentions of the steward's heart. That said, this exchange is setting up what happens in the next chapter, that's for sure. Whether or not the steward is aware of that, who knows? I think it's more intelligible to see that the steward really was acknowledging that Yahweh through the means of Joseph and himself put the money back in their sacks. Could he be trying to deceive? Yeah, but I don't think the text gives us the data to know that with 100% certainty.

FourthIt is affecting to see Joseph's response of weeping. By God's grace Joseph is the temporal, small "s", "savior" of both Egypt, the surrounding regions, and even of his own family. He's certainly not perfect in all regards, but there are a number of things about his character that are good for our consideration. First, regarding what biblical manhood is. Joseph's character of "biblical manhood" outlines courage, perseverance, dependence upon God, and a full expression of emotions. Not uncontrolled emotion willing to weep at every little thing, and yet he feels deeply. It's important to take note of these qualities lest we confuse "biblical manhood" with a lack of emotion, and an inability to love fully, suffer genuinely, and feel deeply.

Pointing to Jesus Christ
Second, Joseph's being an instrument for "temporal" salvation, being saved from famine, definitely points to the Messiah that God would provide in Jesus Christ. Many Christians around the world suffer starvation, but Jesus teaches us that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God, the Scriptures. Christians feed on Christ by faith, and we know that if we lose our life because of physical starvation, we have an eternal feast being prepared for us, where one day the spiritual reality of that feast will merge with the physical, as our bodies our raised on that last day. That said, a number of Christians, especially in the West, don't suffer for lack of food. Joseph's physical provision points to our spiritual need. All of us suffer the famine of sin, and because of our sin we deserve God's eternal wrath, where there will be no eating to satisfaction. We need Christ above all things, and we need to feed upon Him by faith. We are all invited to come and feast at Christ's banqueting table, and if we would only repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we can be assured of this glorious event.

Judah's substitution here is also a typological arrow pointing directly at Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus is a descendant of Judah. In the previous chapter Reuben offered his children as a substitute (which would also be terribly difficult), but that wasn't quite as strong as Judah's offer here of himself. Unlike Reuben in Genesis 42, Judah offers himself as a substitute if Benjamin should be lost, "I will be a pledge for his safety," and, "let me bear the blame forever." (vs. 8-10) Judah is the firstborn, and here he is taking responsibility fully upon himself. Judah, in a twisted way, saved Joseph in Genesis 37:27, he learned the difficulty of loss in chapter 38, and now here he's offering himself as a surety and a substitute for Benjamin. His offer of substitution for Benjamin is how the Lord will save His chosen family, we need only to watch how it plays out. This points to Jesus Christ who would come from Judah's family line. Through His substitutionary atonement, Jesus Christ, became a pledge for our safety. He is the firstborn of many who would be brought to salvation through His blood (Rev. 1:5). By going to the cross to die for our sins in order to bring us to God, it's as if he owned Judah's words here, "Let me bear their blame forever." Jesus was tortured and beaten then hung on a cross with nails driven through His hands and feet only to suffocate to death, but that wasn't the worst of it. He bore the sin of His people in His body, and He suffered the eternal wrath of God on that tree in our placed condemned He stood. He became our sin, and through the power of His person and His work on the  cross He infused us with His righteousness, so that we have become His righteousness if we are repenting and believing. This substitutionary attitude of Judah would come all the way to the Messiah who took our place on the cross.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is not done yet though. Is all well with this family now? We'll see in Genesis chapter 44.

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