|BIBLE STUDY SERIES #38, 39 and 40|
19 July, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
On this series of Bible studies, we are following the course of God's inter-actions with His creation in the Book of Genesis. We had seen how Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, had endured years of slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, and then we watched in our mind's eye as Pharaoh suddenly raised him out of prison to great honour because Joseph had been able to explain God's interpretation of Pharaoh's troubling dreams.
By Pharaoh's pleasure, Joseph has been granted to marry Asenath, daughter of Potipherah, priest of On, and two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, have now been born of that union. Joseph, demonstrating that phenomenal organizing ability to the full of which we had previous glimpses, has organized the whole land of Egypt to garner grain until he has left off numbering the actual quantities of the surplus in the seven years of bounty.
We are now at the start of Genesis 42, and we had seen that the seven good years of plenty had come and gone, and now the whole of that part of the world was suffering the prophesied seven years of famine. Sufficient time had now elapsed so that the lack of food was seriously starting to affect Jacob's remaining family back in Canaan.
Jacob has now given his sons advice to go down into Egypt, to secure some precious grain for the tribe. The Biblical account is most concise, and sometimes it is easier, and takes less time to simply read the account again, rather than to attempt to review it using other words. Thus, in order to pick up the threads of our story with the greatest efficiency, although I did read the passage before, I shall simply read Genesis 42:1-12 again, inserting some comments as we go. It says:
1. Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
2. And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
3. And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
We ought to remember that it has been about 23 years since Joseph was so cruelly removed into slavery from Jacob's family circle, and Joseph's brothers had presented to Jacob Joseph's bloodied coat of many colours with the false suggestion that it pointed to Joseph's death, but Jacob obviously has lost none of his sorrow over that loss. It seems obvious that he still remembers his beautiful younger wife, Rachel, who died giving birth to Benjamin, with great sadness, and he has obviously not lost affection for those two sons which she bore to him, Joseph and Benjamin. Thus we read:
4. But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
5. And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
Down in Egypt, we may imagine Joseph, in charge of the operation, sitting back in great estate, surveying the multitudes of foreigners as they lined up at each of many tables while scribes and fleshy treasury officials processed their requests for grain. The growing lines of gaunt strangers would, day by day, seem an unending stream. No doubt slaves would scurry about on errands and underlings would seek to exercise their petty authority with a suitably brusque show of superior dignity!
6. And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
At this point, the non-Biblical Book of Jasher tells in some detail of Joseph's planning and the orders he gave to his servants, to locate his brothers because he knew they would probably eventually have to come among the multitudes of those who sought corn in Egypt. That reference indicates that Joseph had reports listing those entering Egypt at the various border gates dispatched to himself daily, and upon receiving reports from the border guards which contained the names of his brothers, Joseph, it tells us, actually closed store-houses in other cities so as to force the lines of foreign purchasers to come before him. Each purchaser, in turn, it seems, was asked his name and the name of his father, as he presented himself to buy grain. In so doing, Joseph planned to locate his brothers. He had certain plans for them when they were located, as we shall see. The Biblical account continues at verse 7:
7. And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
8. And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
9. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
Again, that account in the Book of Jasher makes the Biblical account appear most plausible, for it explains that Joseph's brothers had split up, and passed through ten different points of entry upon arriving at the Egyptian border. It explains that they had unsuccessfully sought for Joseph for three days in a contrite attempt to retrieve him from his servitude before finally, themselves, being found by Joseph's servants, and being brought into Joseph's presence surrounded by guards. Returning to the Bible at verse 10, it says:
10. And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.
11. We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.
12. And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
At this point, those brothers are understandably feeling quite apprehensive. It appears that they now attempted to explain their peculiar activities.
13. And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.
14. And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:
15. Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
16. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.
17. And he put them all together into ward three days.
18. And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
19. If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
20. But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
It seems obvious that Joseph here has in mind several considerations. First, Joseph wants to test these ten half-brothers to know whether they have developed some sense of contrition and repentance for the manner in which they had treated himself those many years before. Second, we can see that he wishes to ascertain whether they had, in fact, on some occasion since that time, sold Benjamin, his only full brother; perhaps treating him as they had treated Joseph himself. Thirdly, no doubt he also has in mind giving them a taste of the insecurity and desperation which he had experienced so many years before in that dry pit or cistern where they had placed him before selling him into slavery. From the words which follow, he has at least part of the answer which he requires.
21. And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
22. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
23. And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
24. And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
Reuben, the eldest, although later judged by Jacob to be "unstable as water" due to his sexual transgression with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22), here witnesses that he had definitely been a more mature, responsible and restraining influence among those intent upon treating Joseph so badly. He thus to a certain extent, exonerated himself.
Not so, Simeon, that somewhat intemperate firebrand who had, with Levi, launched the devastating attack on Shechem (Genesis 34:25) over the matter of their full sister, Dinah, some years previous; an act which Jacob later remembers with disapproval in Genesis 49:5-7.
We might presume that Simeon was chosen to be bound and placed in the prison because he was the brother next in seniority of years, and thus the brother presumed to bear a greater weight of responsibility for his actions than the rest. Had he, perhaps for this reason, been the most vocal in expressing a determination to strip that coat from Joseph, and to get rid of him? Perhaps he had been the most vehement, because he resented Joseph's show of rank in wearing that coat of many colours, which show would imply a down-grading of his own seniority amid the family hierarchy.
While attempting to complete his test of the sincerity of his brothers, Joseph must make sure that Jacob and the rest of his family who are still living in famine-stricken Canaan do not suffer, so he must provision the remaining brothers with the needed grain and send them on their way.
As our time is about up for today, let me leave with you this thought. Just as Joseph, while testing the sincerity of his erring brothers, nevertheless held fully in view the dire straits of the whole family, and their need for immediate sustenance, so our Almighty God deals with us. He may have to treat us with a firm hand on occasion, but even in the times of disapproval, God does not lose sight of the ultimate end. He does want us to find salvation with Himself eventually, like Joseph did these brothers. He does not treat us with inappropriate severity. The Lord does keep His children, even as He disciplines them. As II Peter 3:9 puts it, The Lord "...is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." We shall pick up our study again next week.
26 July, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
In our present series of Bible studies, we are looking at the Book of Genesis. Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, has endured years of slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, and then suddenly he has been raised to great honour, having power to organize Egypt's grain harvests during seven good years before the seven famine years arrived.
Joseph's brothers, at Jacob's direction, have come to Egypt seeking grain, and there, Joseph has recognized them, and, remembering their treatment of himself, has decided to test their possible contrition at what they have done. Remember that, while Joseph had recognized these brothers, they had not recognized him in his present state of glory and authority down in Egypt.
The brothers are at first accused of being spies, and put in prison for three days. Then, with Simeon remaining bound, the rest are released to carry a supply of grain home to Jacob and the rest of Joseph's family.
Once again we read from the Biblical passage found in Genesis 42, this time starting at verse 25:
25. Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.
26. And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
27. And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.
28. And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?
They are amazed, and troubled because they see that they may now be vulnerable to a charge of stealing the grain, although having, in fact, paid for it. To their dismay, the money has re-appeared in their possession. Already, they stand accused of being spies. Now, to that charge may be added a charge of stealing the price of a shipment of grain if they return to Egypt for more.
29. And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,
30. The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.
According to the non-Biblical Book of Jasher, in fact, their actions, although motivated by a contrite attempt to seek out Joseph while they were in Egypt, had been such as to lay them open to the charge of being spies, for indeed, as that reference shows, they apparently had been seeking for Joseph for three days in a manner which would be consistent with the activities of spies, and this suspicious manner of activity, as they would now see, could well, perhaps, have given rise to those charges. We listen as they continue speaking to Jacob:
31. And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:
32. We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
33. And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
34. And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.
35. And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
36. And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
Can we, for a few moments, place ourselves in poor Jacob's place, and see all these developments as he saw them? The Almighty God had appeared to him that night at Bethel in the vision of the ladder which stretched to heaven as he slept with his head resting on the stone called in later centuries "Jacob's Pillow". God had granted him magnificent promises, including that of providential care.
He had returned from the home of his uncle Laban with a large family and much wealth, to face a meeting with his brother Esau, from whom he had fled some twenty years before. Upon facing up to God's challenge at the Brook Jabbok, he had made a personal commitment and received the glorious new name of Israel.
But how had this Great God of Bethel treated him since that day? First, his beautiful only daughter, Dianh, was raped by a neighbouring prince, bringing on a slaughter of that city of Shechem by two of his sons. Then his favourite wife, the dearly beloved Rachel, had died in childbirth, bearing his youngest son, Benjamin.
I cannot help but wonder, incidentally, if Jacob then remembered his words to Laban found in Genesis 31:32 "With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live...", for it had been his lovely Rachel who had, without Jacob's knowledge, stolen those family gods from Laban, and hidden them beneath her in the camel's furniture. Had Jacob, in the years since that sad day, been secretly reproaching himself; perhaps wondering if his pronouncement to Laban in a fit of righteous indignation had formed a death sentence upon his favourite wife?
She being fondly remembered, though dead these many years, Joseph, her firstborn had been his favourite son; the one who had demonstrated God's wisdom and approval in the matter of those remarkable dreams of the bowing sheaves of wheat and of the heavenly bodies likewise bowing low. Both the wheat and the sun, moon and stars would be symbols for God's chosen people in the years to come, and, as we shall later see, Joseph's life gives evidence of forming one of those prophetic Biblical "anti-types", answering to a later Saviour of the race.
Upon Joseph's shoulders, Jacob had hoped, some day, to see the mantle of family authority and leadership rest, but Jacob had later been led to believe that Joseph had been killed by some wild beast.
Jacob's remaining sons have since grown older, and take wives. For a time, Judah had removed himself some distance from the rest. Jacob's grand-children are now growing up, and in his society, he, as patriarch of this growing tribe, must bear the responsibility which his years of wisdom require of him.
Now a great famine blights the land and has done so for more than a year, and he has been forced to seek sustenance for the whole tribe from the granaries of Egypt. His remaining heirs, except for Benjamin the youngest, have gone down to Egypt to make the purchase, and there they have apparently run afoul of the law. His second eldest son, Simeon, has there been taken prisoner.
Can we not for a short moment imagine ourselves to be a part of his clan, standing near, and sensing the misery of this trembling venerable patriarch? The God upon whom Jacob had come to trust through these many years might well have seemed to have turned away from him. He fears to release Benjamin to make the fateful journey. Let us read from verse 37:
37. And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
38. And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
We must here give Reuben full credit for taking his share of responsibility for the welfare of the tribe. He is willing to make his own sons, whom he doubtless loves, hostage for the return of Benjamin. He knows that something must be done or the tribe will soon die of starvation. But Jacob is not willing to relinquish Benjamin, the remaining son of his favourite, the dear departed Rachel. As Jacob loves Benjamin, so Reuben loves his own sons. He must make a selfless decision, in order to reassure his father of Benjamin's safety when in his own care. We now pass to Genesis 43, to follow events as time passes and the pressure is not alleviated:
1. And the famine was sore in the land.
2. And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.
3. And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.
4. If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food:
5. But if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.
6. And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?
7. And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?
8. And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
9. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:
10. For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.
Now it is Judah whose strength of character, tempered by the years, has moved him to make a personal assurance on behalf of Benjamin's safety while in the care of his brothers.
We must close, but I will leave with you the thought that even in Jacob's time of trouble, The God of Bethel was watching over everything and would eventually bring untold blessings to everyone concerned out of the present time of stress and testing. Let us take heart both personally and nationally as we find ourselves likewise facing a seemingly tangled and miserable prospect. Remember that Romans 8:28 says "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." We shall continue our studies next week.
2 August, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
In our present series of Bible studies, we are looking at the Book of Genesis. Jacob's favourite son, Joseph, after years of slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, has been raised to great honour, having power to organize Egypt's grain harvests during the seven good years before the seven famine years arrived.
Now his brothers have been forced by the famine to seek grain in Egypt. Joseph has recognized them, and, seeking to know if they have repented of their sin in selling him into slavery, has devised a test. Simeon is held hostage in Egypt, while the rest are sent on their way home, their asses laden with the required grain, and in the grain sacks, he has returned their money. They must, on next appearing before him, bring among them their youngest brother and Joseph's only full brother, Benjamin.
The famine is continuing, and the replenished supplies of grain have now, once more, been consumed. Now, once again, Joseph's brothers must return to Egypt. Crisis is upon them, for Jacob is most reluctant to release into their care the young Benjamin. Perhaps we may find in this picture something to which we can all relate.
We ought to remember that when the young Jacob had first approached the fields of his uncle Laban, so many years before, his eyes and his total desire had been immediately centred upon only one young woman, the extremely beautiful Rachel. Rachel had been Jacob's chosen bride right from the first moment that he had seen her approaching the well of Haran amidst her father's sheep. Jacob did not desire her less comely older sister, Leah. Jacob had never sought the hand of Leah. At Jacob's wedding, Laban had cheated him by presenting him with Rachel's heavily veiled less beautiful older sister in place of his expected bride. It had, perhaps, not helped his temper at that point to recognize the justice and irony in the case for had he not recently received the blessing of blind Isaac by dressing himself as, and pretending to be, his older brother, Esau.
Upon his return to Canaan, Jacob had taken the precaution of shielding Rachel and Joseph by placing them at the rear among the members of his family procession as they approached the meeting with Esau and his four hundred men. The other members of his family would not forget that show of favouritism, which had, further, been re-inforced by the later gift of that noteworthy coat of many colours to Joseph, embodying an apparent significance of precedence.
Now, to Jacob, Benjamin represents the last remaining tangible strand of attachment to that favourite first love, Rachel. Many years have now passed since this beautiful young wife had died in giving life to Benjamin. In a sense we may say that Jacob viewed Benjamin as the continuation of Rachel's presence in his own life. Joseph, Rachel's firstborn and Benjamin's only full-brother, had been the youth whose God-inspired dreams had yielded indications of future greatness, but at the age of seventeen, he had, for all that Jacob knew, apparently been killed by some wild beast.
Joseph was now gone from his presence, presumably never in his lifetime to be seen again. I wonder if we can find some parallel to assist us to relate to that in our own experience? Have we not, perhaps, some lingering strand, a photograph, a handkerchief, some physical reminder of one now departed, of which the significance would totally escape another? Possibly it is to be found in the facial expression or mannerisms of a child. It is something that draws our memory momentarily again into the presence of a loved one long since removed from us. How we treasure the fragments of that presence and seek to preserve the substance of it above more costly recent acquisitions.
Leah's sons, and those of Bilhah and Zilpah, well knew of this lingering favouritism in Jacob's mind. It is with this background that we must view Jacob, the apprehensive Patriarch of an expanding tribe, which is now suffering from the serious effects of famine, as he is, at last, and most reluctantly, forced to entrust Benjamin to the care of Leah's sons.
11. And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:
12. And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight:
We might note that an act of stealing would require not only restitution, but double restitution, as later found in Exodus 22:4. Thus we see here the reference to taking "double money" and also the money found in their sacks, lest they be so accused.
13. Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
14. And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
In this episode, we see the continuing misery of the gradually ageing Patriarch, Jacob but note that he has not relinquished faith in his God, The God of Bethel. He has decided to trust The God Whom, most significantly, he now calls God Almighty for the safety of Benjamin.
This is not a casual matter to be shrugged-off. It speaks to us of a man whose whole existence has been, to this point, devoted to the preservation of Benjamin, the remaining son of his loved wife, a youth who consequently holds a top priority in his life. It speaks, indeed, of a most heart-wrenching decision on Jacob's part, to commit everything into God's Almighty Hands. For the wellbeing of the tribe, Jacob must now yield Benjamin to his fate.
Perhaps we may see in this moment the likeness of his grandfather, Abraham, as he, in total commitment to God's will, raised the knife above Isaac, his son of promise, who lay upon the altar on Mount Moriah.
Perhaps, also, we may catch our breath as, in a meditative instant, we suddenly glimpse in the mist of light beyond, the God who, as John 3:16 explains, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Of that connection, we will have more to add on a later broadcast.
We see in Joseph's brothers the sense of guilt due to their continuing deception of their father over the fate of Joseph. The more noble-spirited among the senior members of these brothers, however, are beginning to manifest the cultivation of a kinder spirit of unselfishness.
We may appreciate how the years have affected them. There has developed a certain wisdom, a certain constraint, a certain sense of greater responsibility and re-assessment of values, which leads them to a commitment that they might not previously have demonstrated. They cannot undo what they have done, and there awaits them a certainty of judgment to be faced before that austere high Egyptian official. They dare not return to stand in his presence unaccompanied by Benjamin, the brother he has demanded must be among them at their next appearance.
Does not this teach us something about our own condition as we view the approach of the Day of Our Lord's Return? The famine continues to demand decisions. Joseph's brothers must approach the forthcoming confrontation in accord with the stipulations which were laid upon them. No other approach will serve. Make what amends they may, all the while the brothers know that they must depend for their salvation upon Joseph's decision, rather than their own resources.
We are about out of time. However, let me leave with you a few thoughts which emerge out of the passages which we have considered today. Although the full development of the theme must await another broadcast, we must at least hint at the prophetic picture which this situation provides.
In the like manner to these brothers, children of Israel, who must be accompanied by Benjamin, Joseph's only full brother, as they make their next obeisance before him, the person who seeks the mercy and full acceptance of God must thus likewise prepare. To a certain extent, as with these brothers. their approach must, of course, be one of sensible commitment, but ultimately, as we approach the Throne of The Almighty God with reverent respect, in the last analysis, our fate depends entirely upon being accompanied into that magnificent and dread assize by Our Kinsman Who is Our Redeemer, our "elder brother", Jesus Christ. God's willingness to receive us and the atonement which covers the penalty appropriate to the impending charges requires that we appear before Him, accompanied by Our Brother, Jesus, our Great High Priest, Who is, by His presence with us in that awful day, Our Saviour.
In the dramatic prophetic enactment about to unfold in the lives of Joseph's brothers I believe that we can see something of importance for ourselves. Are we even now associated with Jesus, as a brother, so that we may have Him at our side as we approach the Throne of God? Surely, as these brothers prepared to return to their terrifying encounter with the un-recognized Joseph by imploring that Benjamin, his only full brother, be allowed to accompany them, we ought to seek Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, to stand beside us as our security, our kinsman Redeemer, as we enter the terrible glory before the majestic Throne of God's Judgment.
We shall continue our studies next week.
RETURN TO BIBLE STUDY
RETURN TO B.I.W.F. HOME PAGE