I have long been under the impression that the events of Joseph’s life were as much, if not more, for Jacob’s sake as for his sons. Compared to his father, Judah is a spiritual giant in Genesis 43 and 44. The only one who is resisting Benjamin’s return to Egypt is Jacob, who has firmly rejected Reuben’s proposal:
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” (Genesis 42:38).
When the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews speaks of the patriarchs in the “hall of faith” of chapter 11, he has only these words concerning Jacob:
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11:21).
To me this is incredible. The only example of faith which this writer finds worthy of mention is an event in the flickering years of his life. It is not until he has one proverbial foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel that his faith is worth writing about!
The first 15 verses of Genesis 43 center about Jacob and his debate with Judah over the matter of the return to Egypt for grain. Jacob desires his nine sons to go, but without Benjamin. Judah refuses to go without Benjamin and seeks to persuade his father to let him go. In this dialogue we find the faith of Jacob exceedingly weak. His leadership in this time of crisis is not a pattern for us to follow. His fears are completely unfounded; and if he had gotten his way, his family would not have been saved.
Verses 16-25 focus our attention upon Joseph’s brothers. The predominant theme of these verses can be summarized by two words, “fear” and “works.” The brothers’ fears, like their father’s, are completely unfounded. They sought by the works of their hands to win Joseph’s acceptance and favor. When Joseph brought them to his house for a feast, they feared that it was designed to be an opportunity to take them as slaves. Joseph, however, wished only to shower them with blessings.
Verses 26-34 fix our attention on Joseph. Jacob hoped only that he would be kind enough to let Simeon go and not to detain Benjamin. Joseph would do far more than this. Joseph’s brothers hoped that Joseph would believe them and not make them his slaves (as they had made him a slave); instead Joseph brought them into his home and gave them a magnificent meal. If Jacob and his sons were filled with fears, Joseph’s eyes were filled with tears, tears of love and compassion. His only desire was to see a change of heart in his brothers and to once again see his father.
We men are going to find Jacob’s response to his circumstances most distressing, for it serves as an illustration of leadership very poorly exercised. The characteristics of Jacob’s leadership are all too familiar today.
His first response was to “put it off,” to delay in taking action until the matter had reached crisis proportions. Joseph had made an agreement with his brothers that they would take the desperately needed grain home and then return with Benjamin:
“… if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in our prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” And they did so (Genesis 42:19-20).
This is what his brothers purposed to do, but they were prohibited by Jacob, who refused to let Benjamin leave his side (42:38). Not until their grain had virtually run out did Jacob face up to the matter:
Now the famine was severe in the land. So it come 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” (Genesis 43:1-2).
Judah put his finger on Jacob’s procrastination when he chided, “For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice” (Genesis 43:10).
If the first principle of Jacob’s administration was “put it off,” the second was “play it down.” One of the ways we can put things off is by convincing ourselves that they are not really all that important. Jacob minimized this matter of the famine, Simeon’s captivity, and the inevitable fact that all his sons would have to return to Egypt. I find a clue to this in verse 2 where Jacob said, “Go back, buy us a little food.” Why would he possibly tell his sons to buy only a little food? Why would they not buy all the grain they could carry? Naturally, he did not know that the famine was to last another five years (cf. 45:6), but he was aware that the famine was severe (43:1). Rather than face the problem head on, Jacob wanted to dabble with it a piece at a time. More than anything, I believe he hoped that if only a little grain were sought, perhaps the governor (Joseph) would not hold to his original demand that Benjamin accompany his brothers on their next trip.
Judah, however, was unwilling to accept the minimizing of his father. After all, it was not Jacob who would have to stand before that Egyptian governor and explain Benjamin’s absence. Joseph had insisted that he would not see these men again unless their youngest brother was with them. The leadership of their father, authority seldom challenged, was firmly rebuffed. They would not return for more grain unless Benjamin accompanied them.
Judah spoke to him, however, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you do 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’” (Genesis 43:3-5).
Jacob was shaken by the stand which his sons took, but he was not willing to succumb to their demands that easily. The next verses display a further attempt to deny reality and to defer sending Benjamin to Egypt.
Then Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?” 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’?” (Genesis 43:6-7).
Hoping to alter the course of history, Jacob sought to change the minds of his sons by placing the responsibility for their circumstances solely on them. In effect, Jacob said to his sons, “It’s all your fault. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t told the Egyptian about your youngest brother.” If it were all their fault, then why should they be belligerent about trying to solve the matter on their own without jeopardizing the life of Benjamin and the happiness of their father?
But the matter went much deeper than this. It was not just a matter of telling family secrets out of school—it was an issue of being truthful. The information they gave to Joseph was in response to very direct questioning (43:7). The reason for this directness would only be learned at a later time when Joseph disclosed his identity. Jacob, then, was rebuking his sons for telling the truth. The old ways of deception were still there, and in times of adversity Jacob did not hesitate to employ them. Jacob’s response might be summarized, “Why didn’t you do as I would have done? Lie about it.”
While Reuben’s efforts to persuade his father to let Benjamin return to Egypt with the others had been resisted, Judah begins to emerge as a leader in the family. His words encourage Jacob to make that painful decision to let Benjamin go:
And 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. 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. For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice” (Genesis 43:8-10).
Reuben promised to assume full responsibility for the safety of Benjamin and offered his own two sons if he were to fail:
You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you (Genesis 42:37).
At that point in time, Jacob had no intention of letting go of his favored son. In addition to this, he may not have had much respect for Reuben because of his previous sin of laying with Bilhah, his concubine (35:22).
Judah’s offer is once more forcefully made. He urged his father to stop thinking of himself and to act in accordance with his responsibility for the entire clan. While Jacob spoke only of “I,” “me,” and “my,” Judah thought in terms of “we,” “us,” and “our” (contrast 42:36,38 with 43:8). Judah seems to speak for all his brothers in refusing to go again to Egypt without Benjamin. He also rebukes Jacob for his needless delay in sending Benjamin to Egypt. Whereas Reuben offered only his sons in return for his failure, Judah offers himself as the guarantee of a successful mission (verse 9).
I believe it was a combination of all these forces—the severity of the famine, the depletion of the Egyptian grain, the threat of the brothers not to return to Egypt without Benjamin, and the assurances of Judah—which persuaded Jacob to consent to release Benjamin for the journey to Egypt. The verses which follow indicate that Jacob is only passively and reluctantly surrendering to his circumstances. His leadership at this time lacks any sign of spiritual maturity or great faith.
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. And 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” (Genesis 43:11-12).
Jacob’s first thought is to “sweeten the pot” with a few of the choicest products68 of the land of Canaan. Undoubtedly this is not thought of so much as a bribe as a token of benevolence and respect (cf. I Samuel 16:20; 17:18). Certainly these delicacies would not offend the governor of Egypt and might even win his favor. In addition to bringing these gifts, Jacob instructed his sons to take both the money they had found in their sacks and the additional money needed to buy a new supply of grain, and they were to give this double amount to the governor. Perhaps the money was misplaced in their sacks and their returning it would be further evidence of their honesty.
Finally, Jacob gave Benjamin into the care of his sons and his God.
“Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” 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 (Genesis 43:13-15).
Some biblical scholars such as Bush, Thomas, and Leupold69 believe that here, at last, we see Jacob rising to the occasion with faith and maturity. I cannot agree with them. I see more carnality than spirituality in these events. Let me give several reasons for my conclusions.
First, the release of Benjamin has been reluctant and only in the face of insurmountable pressure, both from the famine and from his family. Jacob said, “If it must be so, then do this …” (verse 11). Jacob is not active, but passive, and he is more influenced by fear than faith. Second, while Jacob refers to God Almighty, El Shaddai,70 he is not praying as much as wishing. We do not pray by saying, “May God do such and such,…” but by speaking to God Himself, “God, I ask that you …” Finally, the words, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (verse 14) are not evidence of faith, but an expression of fatalism.
The words of Jacob are similar in tone to those of Queen Esther: “… And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Many feel that Esther is demonstrating godly faith here also, but there are numerous reasons for challenging this. The name of God is never found in the book of Esther; neither is one instance of prayer to be found. The feast of Purim, which was instituted in the book (9:20ff.), was never sanctioned by God. The book portrays the fate of those Jews who chose to remain outside the promised land when God had made it possible to return (cf. Esther 1:1; Ezra 4:6). As a result, we see that the Jews were no more saved by Esther’s secular shrewdness than Jacob was enriched by peeling those poles while tending Laban’s flocks. God, acting providentially, spared the Jews from annihilation at the hands of their enemies. Esther’s words, like Jacob’s, were fatalistic. “What will be, will be” may be true, but the attitude which underlies this is often contrary to faith.
Taken as a whole, we can suggest the principles which seemed to have governed Jacob’s actions at this time in his life. I do not recommend them to anyone, but at least we shall spell them out in order to stimulate a re-appraisal of our own leadership.
(1) Whatever problems arise today are best dealt with tomorrow. Jacob delayed acting decisively on the issue of sending Benjamin to Egypt until the situation reached crisis proportions. Given enough time anything could happen, Jacob reasoned, and he was willing to wait indefinitely on this slim hope.
(2) No problem can possibly be as bad as it seems. If the first principle betrays a “manana mentality,” the second is the effort to minimize the problem to the point that it hardly seems worth giving time to its solution. If the problem is not serious, then it can be put off indefinitely.
(3) Honesty is not the best policy. Jacob still had a lot of the old deceiver in him. He believed that good communication only causes problems. He thought that the less others knew about him, the better off he and his family were. Judah was thus rebuked for telling Joseph any facts about the family. Many Christians today operate on this same principle. They think that keeping others from knowing them well avoids problems, but they, like Jacob, are desperately misled. Sin loves secrecy and darkness, while righteousness loves the light (cf. John 3:19-21).
(4) Always look out for number one. Jacob’s leadership was consistently exercised in the light of his own personal interests. It was Judah who urged his father to think of others rather than himself (cf. verse 3). No leader is harder to follow than the one who seeks only his own interests. Conversely, no leader is easier to follow than the one who seeks the best interests of those he leads (cf. Ephesians 5:22ff.).
(5) As much as is possible, see to it that others receive the blame for any problems. Jacob sought to place the responsibility on Judah and his brothers because they told the truth (verse 6). A good leader is one who is willing to accept the responsibility for his mistakes.
(6) If our efforts to solve a problem fail, add money. Jacob hoped that his presents, along with double payment, would help achieve his desired ends. Christians are often accused of being the last to reach for their wallets. Whether this is true or not, we are all tempted to resort to monetary solutions to our problems. We may pay our children for behaving as they should or offer to pay whatever it takes to solve their problems. Money seldom solves problems, while it causes many.
(7) When all else fails, trust God. It is no accident that Jacob mentions God last. It never seemed to occur to him as it did to Joseph that God was active in all of his troubles. His wish that God would be with his sons is only a last ditch effort when it should have been his first line of defense. “Foxhole religion” is not new, and it did not cease with Jacob.
Joseph’s brothers came with a plan of action previously outlined by their father. They would offer the Egyptian governor a gift of some of Canaan’s best products (verse 11), and they would give back the money which had been returned in their sacks (verse 12). As events began to develop on their return to Joseph in Egypt, the situation seemed even more foreboding, and these two strategies were now pursued with desperate diligence.
When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, “Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.” So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.” So they came near to Joseph’s house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, and said, “Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, and it came about when we come to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks.” And he said, “Be at ease, do not be afraid, Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them (Genesis 43:16-23).
When Joseph looked out and beheld Benjamin with his older brothers, he set a plan in motion, apparently without talking to them. He instructed his servant to take these men into his house and to prepare a meal for them in a way that parallels the reception of the prodigal son in the New Testament (Luke 15:11-32).
Unaware that they were being taken into Joseph’s home to partake of the noon meal, they thought it was they who were destined for slaughter. Their fears were largely due to being taken to his house (verse 18). We must remember that prisons were located in the homes of well-to-do political figures. Now what do you suppose was to be found at Joseph’s house? These brothers were not so much concerned with being conducted into this house as they were with being confined under it, in the dungeon. Perhaps this was the dungeon where Simeon was being detained.
In desperation they took the steward aside to explain how they had found their money in their sacks and that they had brought it with them to repay it. The steward sought to calm their fears71 by assuring them that he had received the money for their grain. Indeed he had, but he did not mention to them that it was he, under Joseph’s orders, who also returned it. In keeping with later biblical instruction on giving (cf. Matthew 6:2-4), the steward informed these men that it was their God and the God of their father who had provided this money (verse 23). To further assure them, he brought out Simeon and returned him to them.
Then the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. So they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there (Genesis 43:24-25).
By this time the men had learned that the reason for their being brought to Joseph’s home was to partake in the noon meal with him (verse 25). Anticipating Joseph’s arrival, they first were given water to drink and freshen up and fodder to feed their animals. After this, they set themselves to the task of preparing the gift which they would present to Joseph when he arrived (verse 25).
I think they must have put a great deal of effort into the preparation and presentation of the gift. For one thing, it appeared that they had gained some favor in the eyes of Joseph, to be invited for a meal. What better time to follow up with their gift? Also, their efforts to give back the money found in their sacks had been brushed aside. It had seemingly not made the impression which they had hoped for. Everything seemed to ride on how they handled matters when they again met Joseph. I can imagine these men arranging their goods, first one way and then the other. How important this gift was going to be, they supposed.
What a contrast we find between the fears of Jacob and his sons in the previous verses and the tears of Joseph in this last section. Joseph’s deep love for his brothers is, of course, not yet evident to them, but it is made known to us. It makes the fears of previous verses look as foolish as they really are.
When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him. Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” And they said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed down in homage. As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?” And he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” And Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over 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 he controlled himself and said, “Serve the meal.” So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians, who ate with him, by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. Now they were seated before him, the first-born according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. And he took portions to them from his own table; but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him (Genesis 43:26-34).
To Joseph’s brothers nothing was more important than those pistachio nuts and almonds. These nuts, along with the other products of the land of Canaan, were expected to win Joseph’s favor. He never gave them a glance. He did not ask how they were grown or what year they were produced. He didn’t care. Joseph was only concerned with people, not pistachio nuts; he cared about his brother Benjamin, his father Jacob, and the rest of his brethren. His first utterance sought information on the health of his aged father (verse 27). Next he turned his attention to Benjamin, who he had not seen for over twenty years. Joseph pronounced upon Benjamin a blessing which should have sounded strange coming from an Egyptian (cf. Genesis 33:5,11; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 67:1).
Seeing the only other son of his mother was too much for Joseph to contain. Quickly he left the presence of his brothers to weep and to regain control of his emotions (verse 30). After regaining his composure and washing his face, Joseph returned and ordered the meal to be served. In complete harmony with the Egyptian culture (and to continue concealing his identity), Joseph ate at one table, his Egyptian servants at another, and his brothers at still another table, somewhat separate, yet in front of him. A situation similar to that which existed between Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament period must have dictated this separation.
Most puzzling of all, Joseph had arranged for his brothers to be seated in the order of their ages, from the oldest to the youngest. While all of his brothers were well fed, Benjamin received a portion that was five times greater than his brothers. The seating arrangement did not pass Joseph’s brothers by without notice, and they were amazed at how this could be done. While it did not suggest to them that Joseph was their brother, it did convince them that this man had a knowledge and insight that was far from normal. He possessed a power greater than others (cf. 44:15).
I have always felt that the preferential treatment of Benjamin was a part of Joseph’s plan to test his brothers, but I am less impressed by this view after studying this chapter. I do believe that giving Benjamin five times as much as any of his brothers served to remind the rest of his preferential status (mainly from his father, but even from Joseph). It did provide the setting for the test of Joseph’s brothers in chapter 44, for they were now given the opportunity to do away with Benjamin, with no real blame to themselves.
While Joseph’s generosity to Benjamin served to highlight the fact that he was now, in place of Joseph, the favored son, I don’t believe this was Joseph reason for his actions at the table. This, like the return of the money to his brothers, was motivated by genuine love and benevolence. Joseph did have a more intimate relationship with Benjamin, and he did not hesitate to reveal it. This act provided more food for thought for his brothers to digest. I do not in any way see this multiplied portion as anything sadistically or improperly motivated. I view it as an indication of Joseph’s deep love for his brother.
I must admit that somehow I have had it in my mind that Joseph had the entire encounter with his brothers mapped out from start to finish. I viewed him as almost mechanically going through each step of the program, knowing exactly how his brothers would respond and what he would do in turn. I don’t really think this is how it happened. I am convinced that Joseph understood his responsibility as head of the family and as God’s instrument to bring his father and brothers to the point of spiritual insight and genuine change. I believe that he did this in just the same way that we serve as God’s instruments, one step at a time. The kindness which Joseph showed to his brothers in chapter 43 was with no hidden or ulterior motives, but only to bestow blessing upon them. The test of chapter 44 is seen to be necessary in the light of their departure, yet without fully revealing their character. The blessings at Joseph’s disposal were to be poured out on men who had shown genuine repentance. That repentance would become evident in the test which was to follow.
Contextually and historically, chapter 43 serves at least two functions. First, it reveals the fears of Jacob and his sons to be entirely groundless. The best that these men could hope for was the release of Simeon and the safe return of all the men (verse 14). Little did these men know that the governor of Egypt was the son of Jacob and brother to his sons. What God had planned for them through the instrumentality of Joseph was more than they could ask or think (cf. I Corinthians 2:9). While Joseph had faced his trials with faith, his father and brothers agonized in their testing, plagued with unfounded fears.
In a very special way, chapter 43 prepares us for the “acid test” of chapter 44. We might be inclined to view Joseph as engineering this plot in order to vent some of his hostilities toward his brothers. Was this not a cruel and inhuman test? The answer is a resounding “No!” as evidenced by the genuine tears of love and compassion he shed, unknown to his brothers, in chapter 43. Why did Moses inform us of the emotional feelings of Joseph (42:23-24, 43:30) if they were not known to his brothers? Simply because he intended for us to understand Joseph’s motivation for his actions. Every test and every hardship which Joseph imposed upon his brothers was an act of genuine love.
What a lesson this gives us in the area of discipline. We are inclined to glibly tell our children, “This hurts me more than it does you,” when we correct them, and I would hope from the example of Joseph that this is really so. Discipline that makes us feel better should be subject to careful scrutiny. Discipline that brings genuine tears to our eyes is from a heart filled with love. I believe this is consistent with what Paul intended when he wrote,
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
I learn another lesson from Joseph. I see that in his dealings with his brothers he found it necessary to control his emotions in order to do what was right. Now his emotions were not wrong, and thus to be denied or repressed. Joseph’s tears were the proper response to his circumstances. His tears were shed in private to conceal his identity, but his emotions were brought under control so as to do what was best for his brothers. Had Joseph’s emotions reigned, his brothers would not have been brought to genuine repentance. If Joseph had merely “done what his heart told him,” he would have immediately revealed his identity, but stimulating their spiritual growth was more important.
Our emotions are God-given, and most of us (men, at least) are always trying to deny them. Tears were not a shame to Joseph; they simply did not further his purpose. It is a commonly held viewpoint that we should do what our heart tells us to do, that we should let love lead the way. I do not believe this is true if we equate “love” with our emotional feelings. Biblical (agape) love is not an emotion so much as it is a commitment. Acting in love may involve acting contrary to our feelings.
Let me seek to illustrate this. Those of us who believe in spanking our children (as the Bible instructs us, Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 23:13-14) know how this works. We hardly have gotten the paddle into our hand when our child begins to wail as if he or she is dying, but we haven’t done anything yet. Those cries tug at our heart strings, and our hearts plead with us to put down the rod. At this point our emotions must be controlled, and love must will to do what is right. It should be no pleasure to punish our children, and the pain we cause ourselves may indicate that what was done was in genuine love.
This is what the apostle spoke of when he wrote,
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9).
Love, that is, real love, must always be regulated by and subject to knowledge and discernment. What may appear to be loving, may be the opposite.
What a beautiful picture this chapter provides us of the discipline which God exercises in the lives of His children. Only Joseph fully recognized all of these things as coming from the hand of a loving and caring God (cf. 45:5-8; 50:20). Jacob and his other sons saw it mainly as the “fickle hand of fate.” When some did realize that their trials were from God, it would appear that they perceived an angry God who was only seeking vengeance (cf. 42:21,28). This is just the way they viewed Joseph, as a harsh and angry man (cf. 43:3). But just as Joseph’s severity was feigned (42:7), so God’s apparent harshness toward His children is unreal. The discipline which comes from God, like that which came from Joseph, is from a heart filled with grief and injured love (cf. Hebrews 12:1-13). Its desired end is not revenge, but restoration. It seeks to bring us to the place where His blessings may once again flow freely into our lives. But so long as we choose to go our own wayward way, we will discover that “… the way of the treacherous is hard” (Proverbs 13:15).
Joseph’s brothers provide us with an excellent illustration of salvation. In their current spiritual state they faced Joseph with the greatest fear. They perceived their only “salvation” to be in their “works” of returning the money they found in their sacks and in the pistachio nuts and other presents they brought from Canaan. The first was refused by the steward, and the second was ignored by Joseph. It was not their works that endeared these brothers to Joseph; it was their relationship to him. That is what they did not yet realize.
In the same way today sinful men dread the thought of standing before a righteous and holy God. The future must be faced with great fear. Frantically men and women seek to gain God’s favor and acceptance by their “pistachio nuts” of good works. Such things as trying to live by the Golden Rule or the Sermon on the Mount, joining the church, and being baptized, are unacceptable to God as a basis for salvation. What saves a man or a woman is a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.
When we stand before the throne of God, the only thing God will be interested in is our relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ. As our Lord Himself put it,
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14:6).
This is the consistent message of the Bible:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16-18).
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (I John 5:11-12).
Have you come into a relationship with Jesus Christ? I urge you to acknowledge that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Let your eternal destiny rest in Jesus Christ, Who died in your place and Who offers you His righteousness and eternity with Him. Realize that any work which you may do will do nothing to gain God’s favor; He is pleased only with the work which Christ has already done on the cross of Calvary.
From Jacob we can learn a number of lessons. First, as we have already pointed out, Jacob provides us with an excellent example of how we are not to lead. Second, Jacob reminds us that it is our efforts to save ourselves that lead to our ruin. It is only when we give up striving to save our life and accept God’s provision that we are saved.
For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it (Matthew 16:25).
Jacob was putting all his hopes for the future on his son Benjamin (42:38; 44:29-31). Without Jacob’s realizing it, God had purposed to save him and his sons through Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers, marked for death, and who was, so far as Jacob knew, dead. Later this son who “was no more” was elevated to the throne where he was able to save his brethren. Jacob’s hopes were placed on the wrong son. It was through Judah, who offered himself in place of Benjamin, and Joseph, who was rejected and then exalted, that Jacob and his sons were saved. Jacob would be saved God’s way or not at all. God had to systematically pull out all the props from under him before he was willing to accept things God’s way. How characteristic this is of us.
Finally, Jacob reminds us that the only reason the saints persevere is because God perseveres to bring about the accomplishment of what He has promised. Humanly speaking, if Jacob had gotten his way (by keeping Benjamin home with him, where it was “safe”), the nation would never have gone to Egypt where it was spared from physical famine and spiritual disaster (e.g., Genesis 38). Jacob was in no way furthering God’s purposes; he was fighting them. God saved the nation in spite of him. How encouraging it is to know that our ultimate destiny is in His hands, not ours.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
68 “. . . a little balm and a little honey (. . . either new honey from bees, or more probably honey from grapes,--a thick syrup boiled from sweet grapes, which is still carried every year from Hebron to Egypt), gum-dragon and myrrh . . . , pistachio nuts and almonds,’ . . . which are not mentioned anywhere else, are, according to the Samar. vers., the fruit of the pistacia vera, a tree resembling the terebinth,--long angular nuts of the size of hazel-nuts, with an oily kernel of a pleasant flavor; it does not thrive in Palestine now, but the nuts are imported from Aleppo.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), I, p. 360.
69 For example, note these words of Thomas: “At length Jacob recovered his spiritual equilibrium, and consented to let Benjamin go. He also told them to take a gift to the great man in Egypt. In the old days he had tried to appease his brother Esau, and here again he adopted the same policy. Not only so, they were to take double money in their hand, and the money that was brought again in their sacks. He also commended them to the God of Power (El-Shaddai), praying that the Mighty God would give them mercy before the man and send back Simeon and Benjamin. The old man’s closing words indicate a fine spirit of acceptance of the Divine will: ‘If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”’ W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 417.
In addition, Leupold states, “Jacob’s words at this point are not a timid wish but a powerful benediction spoken in faith.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1066.
Perhaps Bush is the strongest in his position, for he writes, “It is not the sullen consent of one who yields to fate while his heart rebels against it. No; he yields in a manner worthy of a man of God; proposing first that every possible means should be used to conciliate the man, the lord of the land, and then committing the issue of the whole to God.” George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers, 1979), II, p. 313.
70 “God Almighty . . . was a title specially evocative of the covenant with Abraham (17:1) and therefore of God’s settled purpose for this family.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), pp. 203-204.
“As El Shaddai, or ‘the almighty God’ the deity is seen to be not only creator and sustainer of the universe, but also the initiator and keeper of covenants. As such He is seen to move clearly in the human sphere shaping natural forces to spiritual ends.” “God, Names Of,” H. B. Kuhn, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), II, p. 763.
It was by this name that Isaac blessed Jacob before his escape from Esau (Genesis 28:3). It was also by this name that God identified Himself as He reiterated the covenant first made with Abraham (Genesis 17:1ff.) to Jacob at the time of his return to Bethel (Genesis 35:11).