About 4,000 years ago there was a man named Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob went to look for a wife and met Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel and asked to marry her. Rachel’s father agreed to give him Rachel, but he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first. Thus, Jacob married both Leah and Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel, but he did not love Leah. When God saw that Leah was not loved, He opened her womb and she bore 4 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. When Rachel saw that she was not able to bear children, she gave her maid to Jacob, and her maid gave birth to two sons: Dan and Naphtali. Leah also gave her maid to Jacob, and her maid gave birth to two sons: Gad and Asher. Next, Leah bore two more sons and named them Issachar and Zebulun. Finally, Rachel was able to conceive and she bore two sons and they were named Joseph and Benjamin. Unfortunately, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin, and so Jacob lost the wife he dearly loved. Jacob loved Joseph more than all of his other sons. This caused Joseph’s brothers to hate Joseph. Since they hated and resented Joseph, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery, and deceived their father into thinking that Joseph had been killed. Thus, Jacob lost Joseph.
Many years went by and there was a famine in Canaan where Jacob and his sons lived. Jacob heard there was food in Egypt, so he sent 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy food. Jacob did not send Benjamin to Egypt because he was afraid something would happen to Benjamin. Benjamin was his youngest son and the only son of Rachel still with him; thus, Jacob was determined to make sure Benjamin was safe. When the brothers arrived in Egypt, the ruler of the land accused them of being spies. The ruler questioned the brothers about their family. In order to test the brothers, he put Simeon in prison, and told the other nine brothers to bring their youngest brother to Egypt and prove that they had been honest with him about who they were. The nine brothers returned home and told their father what had happened. Jacob had already lost Rachel and Joseph, Simeon had not returned home from the trip to Egypt, and now his sons wanted to take Benjamin to Egypt. Benjamin was his youngest son and was the only one left from his marriage to Rachel. Jacob was determined to make sure he didn’t lose Benjamin as he had lost Rachel and Joseph. Thus, Jacob refused to send Benjamin to Egypt.
Gen. 42:38 But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”
That brings us to Genesis 43. The famine continued, Jacob and his family ran out of food, and Jacob was forced to choose between eating and keeping Benjamin safe. Let’s start reading at verse 1.
Gen. 43:1 ¶ Now the famine was severe in the land.
Gen. 43:2 So it came about when they had finished eating the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, “Go back, buy us a little food.”
Notice that the famine was severe. The famine was so severe that the food they had bought in Egypt did not last as long as the famine was lasting and they once again ran out of food. Notice the command. Jacob told his sons to “go back” to Egypt and buy more food. This was a dilemma for the brothers, because their father was telling them to go to Egypt and buy more food, but they knew their father would not allow Benjamin to go along and they also knew they would not be able to buy more food without having Benjamin along.
Judah was the one who responded to their father. This is what Judah said to his father. Within Judah’s statement to his father are these quotes from the man in Egypt who had sold them the food.
Gen. 43:3 Judah spoke to him, however, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’
Gen. 43:4 “If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food.
Gen. 43:5 “But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
“The man” referred to the ruler of Egypt who had sold them the food the first time they went to Egypt. The pronoun “us” referred to Judah and his brothers. The pronoun “you” began the warning that had been given them by the ruler of Egypt and referred to Jacob’s sons. “My” referred to the ruler of Egypt. “Your brother” referred to Benjamin. Judah was plainly telling his father that the ruler of Egypt would not even see them unless Benjamin went along with them.
Here we read that Judah basically gave their father an ultimatum. Notice the if/then statement. If you send Benjamin along, then we will go to Egypt. If you do not send Benjamin, then we will not go. It was somewhat disrespectful for Judah to give his father an ultimatum, but Judah and his brothers were stuck. Their father was telling them to do something that they knew they wouldn’t be able to do.
After Judah’s ultimatum, Jacob responded with this question. By the way, the names “Israel” and “Jacob” refer to the same person.
Gen. 43:6 Then Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?”
Think about Israel’s question. He did not ask if his sons treated him badly, he asked why his sons treated him badly. He was accusing his sons of treating him badly, almost as if they purposely arranged things so that Benjamin had to go to Egypt.
Gen. 43:7 But they said, “The man questioned particularly about us and our relatives, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ So we answered his questions. Could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
Notice the pronoun “they”, which is plural. The brothers collectively responded to their father’s question. It’s possible that several or all of them started talking at once to refute their father’s accusation. Notice the specific questions that the brothers were asked. Is your father still alive? Have you another brother? There wasn’t much room for the brothers to avoid telling the Egyptian all about their family. This question to their father summed it up very well. How could they possibly have know that the Egyptian would require them to bring Benjamin to Egypt?
Once again Judah took the lead in trying to persuade their father.
Gen. 43:8 Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones.
Gen. 43:9 “I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever.
Gen. 43:10 “For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice.”
This phrase, “that we may live and not die”, indicates the severity of the situation they were in. Judah was trying to persuade his father that they had no choice but to take Benjamin to Egypt because they were all going to die without food, so what was the point of trying to protect Benjamin if they were all going to die anyway. Judah used the words “surety”, “responsible”, and “blame” to try and convince his father that he would do everything he possibly could to protect Benjamin and bring him home safely. The words “delayed” and “returned twice” indicate that this stalemate between Jacob and his sons had been going on for a while. The longer they delayed, the more desperate their lack of food became. It’s almost as if each side was waiting for the other side to get hungry enough that they would flinch and give in.
Israel finally relented and agreed to send Benjamin.
Gen. 43:11 ¶ Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.
Gen. 43:12 “Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake.
Gen. 43:13 “Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man;
Gen. 43:14 and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
The important phrase is found in verse 13: “Take your brother, also.” Israel finally agreed to send Benjamin to Egypt.
There are two phrases that indicate that Israel finally surrendered to the fact that he was not in control. “If it must be so” and “if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved”. This was an acknowledgement by Jacob that he could not protect Benjamin from every threat. This was an acknowledgement that if calamity struck his family, he simply had to accept it.
There is one other phrase here that is very important. “May God Almighty grant you compassion”. Here Israel acknowledged that God was the one in control. God was the only one who could protect Benjamin, Simeon, and his other sons.
Gen. 43:15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.
What did Jacob learn? Jacob learned that he was not in control. The widespread famine was forcing Jacob’s family to go to Egypt for food, and when they went to Egypt, they were under the control of the Egyptians. Jacob learned that if calamity came, there was nothing he could do to stop it. Jacob learned that he needed to accept the fact that God was in control. God was the only one with enough power to make sure that Jacob’s sons were not harmed.
What about us? Do we think we are in control? Do we try to shelter our children so that nothing bad happens to them? Have we accepted the fact that we are at the mercy of forces that we can’t control? Are we in control when there is a sudden, global economic crisis? Are we in control when war breaks out? Are we in control when terrorists strike or when gunmen open fire? Are we in control during a tornado, an earthquake, or a hurricane? Are we in control when a deadly disease starts spreading rapidly?
Just as Jacob learned that he was not in control, so too we need to learn that we are at the mercy of forces much bigger than ourselves. Just as Jacob learned that he could not protect Benjamin against every threat, so too we need to learn that we can’t protect ourselves or our children against every threat. From time to time there are calamitous events in our lives that are way beyond our control, and when calamity strikes, only God is big enough to protect us.