Years earlier, Jacob vowed that if the Lord would feed and clothe him, he would serve him faithfully (28:20-21). This was not so much a deal with God as a declaration of personal intent, weakly made and perhaps tinged with uncertainty, but nonetheless sincere. By then erecting a pillar to commemorate his vow, Jacob was binding himself the more resolutely to serve the God of his fathers. God took care of Jacob, brought him home, and prospered him. But now we find him hungry, and we might cringe a little to find one of God’s battle-tested saints suffering like this in the apparent twilight of his life. But sometimes God saves the hardest tests and the deepest joys for the finish line of faith. We might think that our golden years, as they call them, should be easy ones, but most believers find them the most challenging. Disease, loneliness, fear, pain, and want stalk most confidently when our steps are most halting. Faith’s final ripening is often in a storm, as if God would defy Satan to do his worst when we are at our weakest – all to his show his power, faithfulness, and righteousness (Ps. 92:15; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).
What should we think of God’s dealings? His promise to take care of us does not mean that we are exempt from being reduced to dire straits. While our Savior was hungry in the wilderness and for forty days besieged by the prince of darkness, even then his Father was taking care of him, loving his Beloved and fulfilling his promises. The same is true of Jacob. In fulfilling his broader purposes, Jacob’s hunger was actually better for him than if he had enjoyed a full belly and not a care in the world. Through hunger, the Lord was moving Jacob toward a joyful reunion with Joseph that would have exploded his heart had he known it was coming. More broadly yet, the Lord was through this hunger making provision for Jacob and his family, which was the church, for generations to come. He was removing his servant from the total degradation of Canaanite culture and its impact upon his children. When it comes, then, to God’s tests and his treatment of us, we almost have to gouge out our eyes so that we can see with the eyes of faith. We must certainly resist the temptation to assess his works based upon our reasoning and readings of our lives and circumstances. We have to yield to him. Is it too much to say that almost nothing in our lives is as it seems? I do not think so, for when we are told to walk by faith, this means that we leave off judging God, which we do directly by condemning and complaining against his providences, or indirectly when we harbor peevish attitudes toward him and refuse to be satisfied with what he brings into our lives.
Thus, we certainly learn from the Lord’s dealings with Jacob that we may never tell God “it is enough.” We can never claim to have been tested sufficiently or to have learned all that he has for us. Jacob had been suffering at Joseph’s loss for over twenty years. We see in these lines that the slightest pressure and reminder of Joseph caused the pain to flare up almost as if he had lost him but a few moments earlier. And now, Jacob is an old man. Has he not endured enough? Does his faith require further refining? Even asking these questions, especially about ourselves, supposes that we know what is best for us and understand who and where we are. We do not know what is best for us or the best way to direct our lives (Jer. 10:23). The moment we claim to be sufficient for anything or to have arrived at our destination, is the moment we show our immaturity and presumption (1 Cor. 8:2). Therefore, let us walk humbly with our God and willingly hand over the guidance of our lives into his hand, not claiming any right to be exempt from any difficulty or even severe trial that he wills to bring. A chief part of true and persevering faith is its conviction that God alone is competent and wise to direct its course and finally to bring it to heaven’s harbor and everlasting peace in Jesus Christ.
Judah Stands Surety (vv. 3-10)
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.
It is likely that Jacob waited until the family was on the brink of starvation and living off nuts before he finally raised the issue of returning to Egypt to buy more food. Even his “little” indicates that he hoped to avoid the inevitable – could not his sons just get a little without having to take Benjamin? It is odd that he does not mention rescuing Simeon, but Levi and Simeon were not in his good graces, having almost started a war by destroying the Shechemites in the wake of the Dinah business. In comparison to Benjamin, Simeon virtually did not exist. Judah now begins to show evidence of real reformation of life and becomes the virtual leader of his brothers. Reuben defiled his father’s bed, and Jacob never forgot it (49:3-4). Reuben’s earlier plea was hardly likely to recover Jacob’s affections or warrant serious consideration – you offer up my two grandchildren on the altar of your presumption if you do not bring Benjamin back? This is more like the bluster of a school boy than the judgment of a mature man.
Judah Becoming a Type
Judah comes forward as the leader of the brothers that remain at home. He carefully reminded his father that they would not see the Egyptian governor’s face unless they brought Benjamin with them (v. 4). Thus, he firmly, but I believe respectfully, said that it was pointless to return without their youngest brother (v. 5). Jacob, here called Israel perhaps because of the pathos of the moment or the monumental significance of his decision, complained that his sons had mentioned Benjamin to the Egyptian official (v. 6). Judah then reminded his father that when the man asked about the family, the brothers had no idea that he would ask to see Benjamin (v. 7). Judah then made a much better offer than Reuben’s – I will stand as surety for my brother (v. 8). The hunger was evidently critical – unless we go and you allow Benjamin to go with us – we shall all die. Thus, require Benjamin’s life of me if I do not bring him back with me (v. 9). This delay must not continue; we would have returned already had we not delayed the return trip (v. 10) – which implies a passage of some months, at least.
Judah is becoming a man of personal responsibility and gravity. It is true that there is much he does not relate to his father, especially the brothers’ anguished recognition of guilt over their treatment of Joseph and deep conviction that God is judging them for that crime. Nevertheless, he is manifesting some degree of evangelical repentance – not remorse over the punishment but remorse over the sin itself, a conviction leading to reformation of life. True repentance is marked chiefly by its hatred of sin itself, its sense of having offending God, and its turning to him not simply in one or two or fifty areas but a complete, whole-souled turning to him and repudiation of its sins (Ps. 51:4; 1 Cor. 11:31; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). Some of this is evident in Judah. He does not offer his sons in place of Benjamin, as if they should be punished for his failure, but himself. He takes upon himself the total responsibility for Benjamin’s welfare, and that knowing full well that his father held Benjamin’s life to be far more valuable than his own. This time, however, Judah responded not to Jacob’s favoritism with bitterness, envy, or peevishness but with deep humility and resolution to do his duty regardless. Even the way he appeals to his father, trying to talk him through the situation, shows that God’s pressure is chiseling away at his pride and forming him into a true type of his greater Son.
I cannot fail, therefore, to see in Judah’s offering himself as a surety and substitute for Benjamin a picture of our Savior. Judah, we must understand, needed saving. God could certainly have brought his beloved Son into the world through unbelieving and even personally wicked ancestors, as undoubtedly some were, at least for periods of their lives. But God would save Judah and make him a true type of the coming Redeemer of the world. In a sense, Judah reveals to us how we are delivered. Our lives were forfeit to God’s wrath and judgment on account of our sins. Jesus Christ came forward and bore that judgment and curse in his own body on the tree. We had sinned against God and were lost to sin, Satan, and the world, but Jesus Christ offered his holy life in place of our filth. Substitution, therefore, is not an afterthought or later creation of legalistic theologians; it is the heart of the gospel. It was revealed already in Judah’s personal surety for Benjamin. Even so, Judah’s offer is but a shadow of the truth, for Judah was an egregious sinner in his own right and needed the blood of the Lamb for own sins. Our great Substitute and Surety, Jesus Christ, offered himself for sinners, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). As this is the true and everlasting gospel, we should not be surprised that some sparks of it would be revealed in the seed of the woman, especially in Judah, whose name and actions are inseparably linked to our Redeemer.
Jacob Yielded to the Lord (vv. 11-14)
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: 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.
Reconciled to the Most Difficult Circumstances
Only now did Jacob relent. Did he suspect a conspiracy in his wicked sons? Perhaps. The one thing that seems to have settled him was Judah’s taking direct responsibility for Benjamin. Is this the first time Jacob had seen any spark of godliness in his sons or had even one – excepting Joseph – that he could trust? It may be, of course, that Jacob chose the loss of Benjamin over starvation for his entire family. Jacob has also learned something in the last 20 years – favorite son or not, he must not make an idol of him or settle his happiness completely upon him. This conviction is growing upon him. Still, he will use every legitimate means to gain the favor of the Egyptian governor. The famine was severe, but honey, nuts, and spices were still available from what had once been his full larders, and he also instructed his sons to take double money. If it was an oversight, perhaps all will be well. We learn from Jacob that we must finally be reconciled to the most difficult circumstances – loss of loved ones, radically changed and especially diminished living conditions, and disease. It does no good to hold to anything in this life so absolutely that one’s happiness depends upon retaining it. If we are unwilling to let go, if we love the gifts more than the Giver, we shall pass through life bitter and fearful. We shall likely be suspicious of others and fear that they will take way what we so highly value. When we trust the Lord, however, we can willingly yield our lives and all that we value into his hand, knowing that he is our best guardian and faithful shepherd. Then, whatever happens, we can say, “It is the Lord; good is his word; faithful are his ways. My heart trusted in him, and I am helped” (Ps. 28:7).
Yield Wholly to the Lord
The only way we can yield to him in this way is by trusting in his mercy. Jacob likely made no greater sacrifice in his life than what is recounted in v. 13: “Take also your brother.” Jacob would rather starve than lose Benjamin, but he could not sacrifice Benjamin and the remainder of his family upon the altar of his fear. He then committed them all to the compassion of El Shaddai. Isaac had blessed Jacob in this name (28:3), and God revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel by the same name (35:11). Jacob will rely wholly upon his compassion. He mentioned Simeon’s return – although not by name – and Benjamin’s, but “if I am bereaved, so be it.” Some have seen in this last line of v. 14 nothing but bitter resignation, but I see it as believing resignation, like Job’s. “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). What is remarkable about Jacob’s confession is that he has already known the bitterness of having his beloved son taken away, and yet trusting in the Lord’s compassion, he is willing to lose another, should El Shaddai will it. Jacob completely placed himself and all that he held dearest into the Lord’s hand. He was wholly yielded, finally, shall we say, broken before the Lord. It was hunger and family pressure and even deceit come full circle that drove him here. It was also Judah’s encouraging, bold willingness to stand surety for Benjamin.
Another test Jacob will soon have, but this is perhaps one of his greatest trials. Joseph’s “death” almost killed him, but that event was sudden and unexpected. This is a planned sacrifice on Jacob’s part, a self-conscious resignation of his beloved son into God’s hand, and for that reason, all the more remarkable. Only faith in the all-powerful, compassionate God could have strengthened Jacob to have taken this plunge. It is the same with us and even more so, for we have the true Substitute and see in his life that we must give up all before we can obtain anything good and eternal. The rule of life in our Savior’s kingdom is the voluntary giving up of our lives in order to find them (Matt. 10:39). It is more, however, than a rule. It is the living, breathing example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who through his death brought life and immorality to light, obtained the crown through the bleak valley of the cross, and was crucified in weakness that he might live by God’s power. What we hold on to, the things we think absolutely necessary for our happiness – the good opinion of others, possessions and lifestyles, beloved spouses and godly children, pleasant circumstances, good health – are so many fetters when we try to force from them what they cannot give. They make poor deities. It is God’s compassion that is our hope and only support in this life. When we learn this, as in Jacob’s case, we can make the hard sacrifices for the greater good and even for hoped for good that we cannot yet see.
Joseph Brings His Brothers Home (vv. 15-34)
15 And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph. 16 And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon. 17 And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men into Joseph's house. 18 And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph's house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses. 19 And they came near to the steward of Joseph's house, and they communed with him at the door of the house, 20 And said, O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food: 21 And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand. 22 And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we cannot tell who put our money in our sacks. 23 And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them. 24 And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender. 25 And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there. 26 And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth. 27 And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive? 28 And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance. 29 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son. 30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there. 31 And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread. 32 And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marveled one at another. 34 And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.
Fear Explanations (vv. 15-23)
However humorous these scenes may appear to us, they were terrifying and unsettling, at least initially, for Joseph’s brothers. Toward the end, they were simply mystifying. Upon returning to Egypt, Joseph saw them approaching and directed his steward to bring them to his house. Joseph had to be careful with social protocols and expectations, for he was, after all, by marriage part of the priestly cast of On, one of the highest in the land, but his steward was obedient. Arriving at Joseph’s house, his brothers relate the money-in-the-bag incident to the steward, who undoubtedly to their surprise, dismissed their concerns, gave them a benediction of peace, and said that the money was a miraculous gift of God. What can you say to that? The brothers said nothing, for this remarkable explanation was followed by unexpected hospitality. They must have thought that the Egyptian was taking them home in order to interrogate them further or perhaps even to make them his slaves, but they were offered refreshment, water, and feed for their animals. Then, he brought Simeon out to them. He had evidently been something of a house prisoner, likely in the personal custody of the steward.
His Brothers Bow Again and Joseph Breaks Down (vv. 24-31)
Waiting for Joseph to return at noon, the brothers prepared their present for him. When he returned from his morning work of saving the world from famine – how understated this is, as if to say that the world’s hunger problems and their solution are not nearly as important as God’s taking care of his church and working to bring joy and repentance to his sons and daughters – the brothers brought the present, laid it before him, and again bowed. God’s word always comes to pass (John 10:35; Rom. 3:4)! Joseph, however, was not nearly as concerned with this as with his father’s health. Has this test gone on long enough? Do I have more time to sift and ascertain my brothers’ character? Answering that their father was doing very well, they again made deep obeisance to Joseph, who of course remembered his dream and marveled at the providence and love of God that all his brothers were now before him. His love for them far surpassed and even quenched any pride he might have felt and certainly any desire for vengeance. Is this my brother, I mean, your younger brother? Benjamin would have been one or two years old when Joseph last saw him. Elohim be gracious to you. Joseph wanted to run then and there to embrace his brother. Instead, he quickly left the room and retired to his personal chambers – to weep. Jesus wept over dead Lazarus, and Joseph wept over living Benjamin, who was almost resurrected to him. Deep emotion and living faith feed off one another. Washing his face, Joseph returned to his brothers and directed his servants to begin the meal.
Birth Order Magic and Benjamin’s Portion (vv. 32-34)
Three things are notable about this meal. First, Joseph did not flaunt convention, in this case, the Egyptian abhorrence of eating with foreigners who had likely consumer their gods! Three tables were set – for his brothers, for the other Egyptians in Joseph’s household, and for Joseph himself. He was familiar with his brothers, but not unduly familiar in a way that would arouse suspicion or give offense. He was emotional, but he controlled his feelings so that he could pursue his higher purposes for this meeting. Let this teach us we should not unnecessarily offend against the established customs of our land and time, assuming they are orderly and godly. If they are not, we may have to establish such ourselves! Second, he sat his brothers in their birth order. This must have astounded them – perhaps he did “divine,” as the steward will later suggest. His brothers once showed no regard for Joseph and closed their ears to his cries, but Joseph knew and loved his brothers very well. Is he trying to scare them or give them clues as to what is happening? No, he is testing and trying to get a clearer read upon their characters. What better way to do this than to arouse the old brotherly jealously by giving Benjamin a portion five times greater than theirs? Joseph watched their reactions carefully – no flicker of the old jealously. He made merry with them. They drank freely, perhaps first from nervousness, but then from a relieved sense that perhaps all would be well after all. If this official intended to imprison or kill them, would he entertain them so comfortably? Be careful when you eat with a prince!
The Church Preserved and Beloved
High above the individual dramas being played out that day in Joseph’s palatial residence or in Jacob’s concerned tents back in Canaan, the Lord was preserving and loving his church. These portions of Scripture are so important to teach us this one lesson – that no matter what we see with our eyes, the Lord is always working to bring good to us (Ps. 25:10; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 8:28). We can see him doing this in Joseph’s treatment of his brothers and bringing the whole family to Egypt. It is as if he here gives us a children’s connect-the-dots or coloring book so that we can follow along in the simple lessons. Then, when he turns to do the same in our lives or moves along whole generations of his people by testing and hardship, we say to ourselves, “Ah, we remember Joseph and his brothers! Remember how the Lord tested our father, Jacob, and was in the furnace of affliction actually building him a peaceful and safe home?” Thus, we must always walk humbly with him, for we are not given the specific connect-the-dots for our lives or generation. We cannot see what he is doing, but we can learn from this that he is humbling us to show us what is in our heart and to teach us to live by his word alone (Deut. 8:2-3). Walking humbly with him in this way requires us to trust that he always deals wisely and lovingly with us. He will never tempt us above our ability to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). And though weeping may endure for a night, joy will come in the morning (Ps. 30:5) – the morning of after years, or after affliction, or the eternal after in heaven with the glittering, crowned saints who will all testify that the these unfolding glories are well worth the brief tears and troubles of our earthly pilgrimage.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why does the Lord sometimes test us near the finish line?
2. When it comes to his dealings with us, why should we never say, “Lord, I have had enough?”
3. How can God promise to feed and take care of us, then allow us to suffer hunger or other difficulties?
4. What was different about Judah’s offer? What does the different reveal about the two men?
5. What are some differences between true and false repentance?
6. How was Judah a type of Christ?
7. How are substitution and surety at the heart of the gospel, so that without it, there is no gospel?
8. How does Jacob teach us that we must be reconciled to the most difficult circumstances?
9. How can we yield ourselves into the Lord’s hand? Are you holding back anything from him?
10. What do you trust to get you through life? What does it mean to trust the Lord’s compassion?
11. What was Joseph’s test in the five-fold portion to Benjamin?
12. How does God’s working as recorded in these lines humble us? Encourage us?