How do you respond to unexpected occurrences…especially situations that you had every reason to believe would go smoothly…but didn’t? Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with food in hand…and a story to tell:
“Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying, ‘The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.’ But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’” [Genesis 42:29-34]
How did Jacob respond?
“You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. ALL THESE THINGS ARE AGAINST ME.” [Genesis 42:36]
“My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. IF ANY CALAMITY SHOULD BEFALL HIM…THEN YOU WOULD BRING DOWN MY GRAY HAIR WITH SORROW TO THE GRAVE.”
“WHY DID YOU DEAL SO WRONGFULLY WITH ME as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?” [Genesis 43:6]
Jacob had never recovered from the loss of Joseph. He knew he never wanted to risk losing something he cherished again; so, he attempted to control all the scenarios the object of his affection would encounter. Until, the day came when he could not. His first three responses above, reflect the belief system that his fear had caused him to subconsciously adopt over the years:
- Everything is against me
- Another loss will be the end of me
- Everyone is out to get me
Can you relate? Chances are, we’ve all experienced these responses…or at least, thoughts…when we’ve sustained a series of unexpected, unfortunate events. Events that we would have never foreseen going awry, yet, here we are.
Feeding our fear gives birth to defeatism. Defeatism paralyzes us. We stop moving forward. If we stay put, nothing else bad can happen, right? We’ll avoid danger…the danger of loss, of getting hurt again, of uncomfortable changes, of failure, and perhaps the most foreboding of all, the danger of unpredictable outcomes.
Two of Jacob’s sons responded to his fear. After Jacob’s first declaration in Genesis 42:36, that his sons were responsible for his despondency resulting from Joseph’s, Simeon’s, and soon-to-be, Benjamin’s, absence (He presumed based on his past experience that this would be the case.), Reuben quickly presented his solution,
“…Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” [Genesis 42:37]
Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, had a sympathetic temperament. He stepped in to rescue Joseph from the other brother’s plot to kill him in Genesis 37:21-22 and here, he wanted to appease his father by ensuring Jacob that Benjamin’s safety would be his utmost priority. In both cases, however, he addressed the issues by providing solutions based on assumptions. He had rescued Joseph momentarily; however, he had left Joseph alone in the pit (intending to return), vulnerable to the throes of his currently, hate-filled brothers. Reuben had created a solution to temporarily appease his brothers (to get Joseph out of their immediate sight) and assumed that his brothers would listen to his advice, but Genesis 37:28-29 tells us otherwise.
In Jacob’s situation, Reuben was assuming that he would bring Benjamin safely back; however, if something were to happen, would killing Reuben’s two sons have made anyone feel better? In both circumstances, Reuben didn’t take personal responsibility to see either situation through to the end. He had disappeared when Joseph needed him to ‘police’ the situation and be his personal guardian and protector. And now, his two sons were offered as a sacrifice should Reuben fail to deliver on his promise. Ultimately, and understandably, Jacob did not feel confident in moving forward with Reuben’s solution. Reuben’s solution did not address the root issue that was keeping them from forward progress…Jacob’s fear. Time passed…Jacob continued to stall.
Genesis 43:1-2 informs us of the current family situation,
“Now the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, “Go back, buy us a little food.”
Enter Judah, Jacob’s fourth son. In Genesis 37:26-27, we see a younger Judah using his negotiation skills for evil:
“So Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brothers listened.”
Judah’s solution, while wrong, addressed the issue at hand (getting permanently rid of Joseph) in a way they could all live with (spiritual conviction aside)…no blood would be on their hands.
A transformation took place in Judah throughout Genesis, Chapter 38. A series of wrongs had humbled him. Here, in Genesis 43, we see a reformed Judah using his negotiation powers for good:
“If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
Judah reminded Jacob of the requisite needed to move forward. Moving forward to accomplish the end goal was not an option unless Jacob was willing to relinquish control and entrust them with Benjamin. Judah didn’t further enable his father’s fear by attempting to negotiate around Joseph’s stipulation to accommodate Jacob.
“Then Judah said to his Israel [Jacob] his father, ‘Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die…” [Genesis 43:8]
Judah reinforced the reality of the situation they faced. The family’s life and well-being depended on Jacob’s surrender of his fear. Jacob could either take a risk on Benjamin’s life or the end cost would be multiple lives.
Judah relayed his personal commitment to Jacob in Genesis 43:9,
“I myself will be surety for him; 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 anything went wrong, and the worst case scenario occurred, this was a solution everyone could live with. Perhaps before Jacob could disengage himself from control over the possible loss of what he held dear, Jacob needed to be assured that the person he would entrust, understood the gravity of his struggle…understood the personal value of what he was risking. Judah didn’t assess Jacob’s fear from his personal perspective (Surely, his father’s favoritism hadn’t been a lifelong pleasure to live with). Judah was able to coax Jacob to acknowledge facts and reality and entrust Benjamin to him [Judah] because he didn’t undermine Jacob’s fear. Judah looked at Jacob’s fear from Jacob’s perspective and invested himself in helping Jacob not to allow that fear to obstruct him [Jacob] from forward progress.
Judah ended the dialogue with this clincher,
“For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time.” [Genesis 43:10]
The current predicament could have already been resolved had Jacob not allowed fear to paralyze him.
Jacob, never in his lifetime, after Joseph’s loss, could have conceptualized how this scenario would play out. By surrendering his fear, relinquishing his control over Benjamin, and entrusting what he cherished most to God, he received a surprise beyond what he could ever fathom in Genesis 45:25-28,
“Then they [the brothers] went up out of Egypt, and came to the land of Canaan to Jacob their father. And they told him, ‘…Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.’ And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. Then Jacob said, ‘It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”