Brothers’ revelation

Zaphenath couldn’t keep his secret any longer. He ordered everyone but the brothers to exit the hall. The servants and officers and the steward left the mighty lord with the eleven men who had come from Canaan.

“I am your brother, Joseph,” he said, and tears streamed from his face.

Joseph cried so loudly that the household of Pharaoh heard it. The brothers were dumbstruck.

After he composed himself, he asked, “Is Father still alive?”

The brothers could say nothing. They just stared in disbelief at the man they had betrayed so many years ago. They fell on their faces and bowed to him.

“Come close,” Joseph said, his arms outstretched to receive them.

The brothers stood and approached their brother.

“I am Joseph, the brother you sold to traders on their way to Egypt. But don’t beat yourselves up about it. God did this. This famine will last another five years. I’m here to keep you alive because each of you is a way in which God has chosen to fulfill a great promise.”

The brothers stood in awe of their brother, the high lord and ruler of all the land, unsure of what his words meant.

“Now, go to my father and tell him his son is alive and in a position of great power. Bring him, all of his house, herds, and possessions to me. You’ll settle in Goshen nearby, the lushest in all the land. I’ll provide for you during these lean years, and you’ll prosper.”

Joseph embraced his brother Benjamin and wept. He kissed every brother, his tears drenching each face.

When word reached Pharaoh that his governor’s brothers were with him, he smiled. “Have your brothers take our wagons with them to bring back their wives and children,” he instructed Joseph. “Tell them not to bother collecting their possessions, because they’ll have the best of all Egypt when they settle here.”

Inspiration: Genesis 45

Judah’s plea

The brothers returned to the palace and fell at Zaphenath’s feet.

“What is this evil deed you have done? Were you not aware that I am a man of deep insight?” Zaphenath asked them.

Judah spoke up. “Tell us how to make amends. Our God has seen our guilt and has repaid us for what we’ve done. We have come to serve you in your house. If Benjamin is a slave, then his brothers are slaves along with him.”

“You speak nonsense,” Zaphenath replied. “The guilty party acted alone, and he alone will be my slave. No, go to your father in Canaan and live in peace.”

Judah stood up. “My lord,” he said, taking a step closer, “I pray, allow me to speak without getting angry at your servant. You’re like Pharaoh in wisdom and splendor.”

“Very well. Speak.”

“My lord, you accused us of being spies. We told you that we have a father who is old and a younger brother, born in his old age. He’s the only son left of his mother’s children because his brother is dead. You ordered us to bring him to you, to prove that we weren’t spies. We told you Benjamin couldn’t leave our father, who loves his son more than his own life. You insisted, taking Simeon captive and threatening to sever our relationship if we didn’t return with Benjamin. We went back to Canaan and told our father everything. Our father, Israel, refused to release Benjamin to us. After our rations were gone, he told us to go buy more food. We refused, having remembered your words, lest we take Benjamin with us. Our father said, ‘The wife I loved gave me two sons before she died. One has surely been ravaged by wild animals. If you take Benjamin, and he is hurt, I will die along with him.’ If we don’t return to Canaan with Benjamin, our father, whose life is entwined in Benjamin’s, will go to the grave, full of sorrow. I have vouched for his life, and I would rather die than return to my father without my brother. Now, release my brother, and I will serve you in his place. Let Benjamin return to the father who loves him more than life itself.”

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Money returned

On the way out of the city, Zebulun opened his sack of grain to feed his donkey, when he noticed his purse half-buried in the grain. It was full!

“Look, brothers,” he said. “My money has been returned to me.”

The brothers stopped and looked inside their sacks. They were dismayed to find that every shekel used to buy grain was still in their possession.

“We’ve stolen from the man,” Dan gasped. “What has God done to us?”

The brothers reached their father’s house as the sun was going down, and they relayed their misadventures to him. When they showed Israel their full bundles of money, his countenance changed from concern to despair.

“You stole from the ruler of Egypt,” he sighed. “Joseph is dead, Simeon is taken captive, and now you would take my beloved Benjamin away.”

“And yet we must. For Simeon’s sake,” Judah said.

Israel shook his head.

Reuben stepped forward. “My two sons’ lives for Benjamin,” he vowed. “If I don’t return him to you alive, you can kill them both.”

“Madness!” Israel shouted. “You should listen to yourself sometime. Benjamin’s brother was ravaged in the wild, and the road to Egypt is treacherous. If he came to harm, I couldn’t bear it. I’d join him in the grave.”

So, Israel his sons’ request for Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Zaphenath’s test

Word spread throughout the land. Egypt had grain for sale. When the news reached Israel, he gathered his sons and said, “What are you all waiting for? Go to Egypt and buy us grain, so we don’t die out here!”

Israel’s ten oldest sons packed their camels and left for Egypt, joining the travelers in Canaan who sought relief from the famine. Benjamin didn’t go with them, because Israel was afraid that he might get hurt. Benjamin was his only living reminder of Rachel, the wife he loved.

Of course, Joseph, now called Zaphenath, governed the entire land, and he was the distributor of grain to everyone. When his brothers came and knelt before the great viceroy, they bowed with their faces to the ground.

Zaphenath recognized them instantly, but he treated them as strangers. “Where are you from?” he asked gruffly through his interpreter.

“We come from Canaan to purchase food from your stores,” Reuben answered for his fellow travelers. It was clear they didn’t recognize their brother at all.

Zaphenath remembered the dream he had as a boy, and how one day he knew that eleven brothers would bow before him. Among Israel’s sons, Zaphenath counted only ten. Where’s Benjamin? he asked himself.

“You’re spies,” he said. “You’ve come to see where our gates weak.”

Judah answered, “Lord, your servants have only come to buy enough grain to feed our family. We all share the same father, a man of God. We wouldn’t lie to you.”

“No, you’re spies, I’m sure of it,” he said as he stood from his royal seat. “Guards, remove these—”

“No, lord, we’re your servants!” Reuben pleaded. “We come from Canaan. Our youngest son is with our father and our other brother is dead.”

“Ah, a test, then!” Zaphenath shouted. “This will be how you prove yourselves: One of you shall go back home, collect your youngest brother, and bring him to me. The rest of you will wait in prison for their return. If you don’t come back with your brother, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you’re spies. And you don’t want to know what I do to spies.”

The brothers agreed to the test as if they had a choice, and the captain of the guard escorted them to the prison until the great lord of Egypt considered which brother to release.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Israel’s God

Jacob caught up with his family just in time to see a retinue of men coming toward him. Quickly he divided his children up with their respective mothers and lined them in groups. The maids and their children made up the front of the line, Leah and her children were in the middle, and Rachel and Joseph were at the back.

Then he went on ahead of them all, alone and unarmed. As he approached Esau, he bowed low to the ground seven times.

When Esau recognized his brother, he ran to him and hugged him. Together they both cried. Esau saw the approaching caravan. “Who’s with you?” he asked.

“These are my children, given to your servant by a gracious God.”

As each group drew near, they bowed before Esau. He regarded each of them with a nod and turned again to Jacob.

“What’s the meaning of the endless train of livestock that came before you?” Esau asked.

Jacob took a knee. “To find favor in your eyes, master,” he answered.

Esau offered his hand to his brother and lifted him up. “I’ve got more than enough, brother. Keep your property.”

“No, master,” Jacob pleaded. “If we’re at peace, accept what I offer as a sign. Seeing you after these many years is like seeing God face to face, especially since you receive me with such kindness.”

Esau accepted Jacob’s gift and said, “Let’s go home together.”

But Jacob hesitated. “Master, you know my children are small, as well as the suckling young of my flocks and herds. Please go on ahead, and I’ll travel at a slower pace for their safety. I’ll meet you in Seir.”

Very well,” Esau agreed. “But let me leave some of my people with you.”

“You’re too kind,” Jacob said, “but no, I cannot accept.”

“Very well,” Esau again relented. “See you soon.” And Esau went south and returned home to Seir.

Jacob, on the other hand, traveled west and built a little house with stables for his livestock. That place was named “Succoth,” Stables. Then moving across the Jordan River, he settled outside Shechem in Canaan. He bought a piece of land with a hundred pieces of silver and pitched his tent.

Then he built an altar to God and called it “El-Elohe-Israel,” God, the God of Israel.

Inspiration: Genesis 33

Suitable bride

God blessed Abraham and everything he touched, but as he approached death in his old age, something weighed heavily on his mind.

He called for his most trusted servant and said, “Promise me in the presence of God that you’ll not choose a wife for my son here in Canaan. Instead, find her from among my kinsmen in my country.”

“What if she refuses to come back with me,” the servant said. “Will I have to bring Isaac to her?”

“No,” Abraham said. “It’s important he never goes back to my old country. God himself led me out of my father’s house, out from my birthplace, and he promised that the land of Canaan would belong to my family.”

He continued, “An angel from God will prepare the way for you and make your mission a success. If the maiden isn’t willing to come back with you, I release you from your promise. Whatever happens, don’t take my son back to my old country.”

Abraham’s servant promised to do what his master said. He prepared ten camels, packed up an assortment of excellent gifts from his master’s store, and set out for the city of Nahor.

As evening approached, Abraham’s servant had the camels kneel by a well on the outskirts of town. “O God of Abraham,” he said, “give me success today and bestow favor upon my master. As the daughters of the city come to draw water, I’ll say, ‘Please offer me a drink from your vessel.’ If one says, ‘Have a drink, and I’ll give your camels a drink, too,’ let her be the appointed one for Isaac.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, approached with a water pot mounted on her shoulder. She was a beautiful virgin.

After she filled her pot, the servant said, “Please let me take a sip from your vessel.”

“Drink, master,” she replied and lowered the pot for him to drink. Then she said, “I’ll water your camels as well.” She made quick work of the watering troughs, pouring water into each for the camels.

The servant stood in stunned silence, assessing whether or not God had so quickly made way for the promise he had made to his master.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

Sarah’s burial

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah died at Hebron. Abraham sat by her bedside and mourned. Then he went to the Hittites and said, “I know I’m a stranger here, but sell me a plot so I can bury my wife on my own land.”

A Hittite representative said, “Master, you’re a great prince. We wouldn’t withhold even the best of our burial grounds.”

Abraham bowed and said, “If you’re willing, let me talk to Ephron, Zohar’s son. I’d like to buy the cave of Machpelah at the end of his field. With you as a witness, I’ll pay full price.”

Ephron was present among those with Abraham, and he said, “No, master, listen to me. The field is yours along with its cave. As my people are my witnesses, it’s yours. Go, bury your wife.”

Abraham bowed again before the Hittites and, looking squarely at Ephron, said, “I’m paying full price, and that’s final.”

Ephron answered, “Okay, master. What’s four hundred pieces of silver among friends? Pay me and go bury your wife.”

Abraham agreed to the price, paid the man according to the current exchange rate, and took possession of the field, along with all its vegetation, which was located east of Mamre. He buried Sarah in the cave facing Hebron in the land of Canaan.

Inspiration: Genesis 23

Cruel mistress

Sarai heard Abram often talk of fathering a great nation. She wanted to pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled for Abram, so she suggested Abram should sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.

Abram tossed the idea around for about a decade, until Sarai pressed the issue, bringing Hagar personally into his tent. When Hagar got pregnant, she hurled insults at Sarai and adopted an air of superiority over her.

Sarai flew into a rage, and Abram took the brunt of her wrath. “I offered you my slave as a second wife,” she seethed, “and she became a monster. What are you going to do about it?”

“She’s your slave,” Abram shrugged half-heartedly, “and this was your idea. Take care of the situation however you wish.”

On that very day, Sarai’s treatment of Hagar became so unbearable that the slave fled into the wilderness.

An angel of God approached Hagar as she followed a brook toward Egypt. “Hagar, where’d you come from?” the angel asked. “And where are you going?”

The slippery rocks on the creek bottom made the way difficult, but she continued along the path undeterred. “I’m escaping the cold, cruel grip of my mistress.”

The angel stepped in front of Hagar, blocking her way. “Turn around,” the angel said. “Go back and submit to Sarai. In return, I’ll give you more descendants than a census can track.”

Hagar dropped to her knees and held her belly. “How can I go back to that abusive woman?” she sighed, rocking in place.

The angel of God knelt beside her and said, “Your son will be named Ishmael because God hears your cries of anguish. But you should know, Ishmael will make an ass of himself and will have enemies all around him, including his own family.”

“I’ll call you Elroi,” Hagar said, suddenly still, “because I’ve seen God and will live to tell about it.”

After the encounter, the well of the spring was called “Beerlahairoi,” Well of the Living Sight.

Hagar returned to her mistress, bore a son, and named him Ishmael. Abram turned eighty-six years old.

Inspiration: Genesis 16

Parting ways

Abram now had an uncounted inventory of gold, silver, and livestock. He and Sarai, along with his nephew Lot resumed their circuit of travel, making their way back around to Shechem, where God first promised Abram he’d bring forth blessed nations from his family. The first altar he had built remained unblemished, so he conversed with God there in the evenings.

Lot was also getting wealthy, and soon the land couldn’t support both estates. The shepherds of both clans bickered more frequently, but when Lot’s herders started a turf war against the other, Abram intervened.

He met with his nephew by a creek one day. The smell of sun-soaked soil and rock was pleasant, and the water trickling over the pebbles altered their otherwise collectively foul mood. “Look,” Abram said, his jaw set,  “I’m not going to fight with you, and I’m certainly not going to allow our herders to go to blows. We’re all family here.”

Abram put an arm around Lot and gave him a quarter turn from where he stood. “Elevate your gaze, man. All this land is ours,” he said, making a sweeping gesture across the vast horizon. “Let’s agree that if you go east, I’ll go west. If you go west, I’ll go east.”

Lot looked around, his eyes narrowed. To the east, he saw the lush plains of Jordan, with her natural irrigation systems and cascading rivers, reminiscent of the fables of Eden.

“I’ll go east,” Lot said, biting his lip.

“And so it will be,” Abram concluded.

Lot spread his estate among the cities of the plains. He purchased property within the city limits of Sodom, a town known for its pride, laziness, and sexual appetite.

Abram moved westward, bringing his people and possessions to the beating heart of Canaan.

“Look up from the spot you’re standing on,” God said. “Look north, south, east, and west. These wide, open spaces will be yours forever.” And he promised, “I’ll make your children as numerous as the stars.”

The more he heard the promise, the more God added to it, and the more real it seemed. Abram settled down in Hebron at a place called Mamre Oaks where he built another altar to await the fruition of all that God had promised him.

Inspiration: Genesis 13

Abram’s call

Your son Canaan will bow to Shem.

From Shem’s family line, the so-called Semites, a man named Abram emerged from a Babylonian speck called Ur. He and his wife Sarai had lived with his father’s tribe north of Ur in Haran.

Abram hoisted himself upon the highest hill in Haran and surveyed the modern trading mecca. On the horizon, an imposing castle of great basaltic blocks overshadowed the temple of the moon-god. Here, God’s voice began to ring in his ears.

“Take your herds and head south. You’ll settle in a place I’ve designated for you, and for the fulfillment of a promise I’m making to save all humankind.”

Abram listened as God’s voice echoed in his dreams.

“You’ll become a nation of glory,” God told him, “blessed and renowned. Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. Because of your dominion, Abram of Ur, every family in the world will have reason to celebrate.”

Abram took God at his word. When he was seventy-five years old, he straightened his spine, packed his bags, and loaded up his wife, his nephew Lot, their livestock, and all the servants they had acquired in Haran. Together they journeyed voluntarily into dust-swirled chaos.

Traveling through Canaan, they stopped at Moreh Grove in Shechem. God said, “This will be the land of your children.”

Abram had no children and knew his wife was barren, but he built an altar anyway, willing to stretch himself beyond his personal limits, believing that God’s word was His bond.

From Shechem, he and his entourage continued trekking south, living off the fruit and fat of the land. All along the route, Abram would order his surroundings by building one altar after another. His confidence was a magnificent stone castle in its own right, and his resolve to take possession of a new kingdom was fueled by a God who would show up indiscriminately to repeat his promise of wide, open spaces and endless descendants.

Inspiration: Genesis 10-12; I Chronicles 1