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

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Joseph rules

Pharaoh said, “Joseph of the Hebrews, God has shown you something no one else has seen. Therefore, it suits you to rule over my house and my people. The only thing I will withhold from you is the throne.”

Pharaoh took off his signet ring and placed it on Joseph’s finger. Then he addressed the servant at Joseph’s side. “Dress the new governor in quality linens,” he said, “and give him a gold chain.”

Outfitted like a king, Joseph mounted the general’s chariot, and the officers of the guard escorted him through the city streets. Servants prepared the way in front of his royal train, shouting, “Bow your knee, your master is in your midst!”

Later that evening, Pharaoh and Joseph met in Pharaoh’s counseling chambers. “You need a name,” he told his new confidant. “We’ll call you Zaphenath-Paneah.”

“Thank you, Lord.”

“And you’ll have Asenath, the priest’s daughter, as a wife. Without your consent, no one moves a muscle in the entire land of Egypt.”

And so it was with Joseph, now Zaphenath.

Zaphenath left the palace on frequent business trips for the next seven years. The earth yielded an abundant volume of food, and he would make sure a fifth of the produce from the fields were freighted to the storehouses in every city. Soon there was such a surplus of grain, he stopped tallying up each shipment.

During this time, Zaphenath also fathered two sons with his wife, Asenath. He named his firstborn Manasseh, saying, “God caused me to forget my troubles and my brothers.” He named the second son Ephraim, saying “God has let me prosper in a land of hardship.”

Soon enough, just as Pharaoh had dreamed, the famine began. In every land, far and wide, the famine’s effects devastated the people, but Egypt had bread and plenty of it. The people came in droves from all over the world to seek the exalted god of Egypt for food.

Pharaoh said, “Go see Zaphenath-Paneah.”

Zaphenath opened wide the doors of the storehouses and sold grain to all who needed food.

Inspiration: Genesis 41

Pharaoh’s dreams

A couple of years passed, and Pharaoh had a dream. He was standing on the bank of the Nile when suddenly seven of the most well-fed cows came up out of the water and started munching on the reeds. Then, seven more cows, wretched and famished, came up for air and swallowed up the pretty cows. Pharaoh woke up and turned over in his bed.

Falling asleep again, he dreamed of seven fat ears of grain growing on a single stalk. Then, seven wind-blasted and small ears sprouted up and choked out the quality shoots. Pharaoh woke up again, troubled by all he’d seen in the night.

He recounted these disturbing images to every Egyptian magician in the vicinity, but no one knew how to interpret them. Then he called for every “wise man” and seer in the district. Again, he told them his dreams, but no one offered an answer to their meaning.

Then the chief cupbearer spoke up. “How could I be so stupid?” he asked, giving his forehead a sound palm slap. “When the baker and I went to prison, we both had dreams during the same night. A young Hebrew, he interpreted our dreams correctly, for he foretold of my vindication and the baker’s demise.

“You’re right to ask the question,” Pharaoh said. “How could you be so stupid?” Then he turned to a servant guarding the hall entrance. “Bring me the Hebrew at once!”

Joseph shaved his head, changed his clothes, and presented himself low to the ground before the ruler of all Egypt.

“I’m told you’re an interpreter of dreams,” he said to the thirty-year-old prisoner.

Joseph lifted his head and answered, “I don’t interpret them, but God will give the answers you seek.”

“Whatever,” Pharaoh said, skeptical of the Hebrew holy roller. “Look, I was standing by the Nile, and seven fat cows came up to feed on the grass. Then seven skinny cows came after them and swallowed up the fat cows. The seven skinny cows were still skinny. In my second dream, I saw seven fat ears of grain on one stalk. Then, seven withered ears came up and choked out the healthy ones. The magi were unable to give me an answer. What say you?”

“Is that all?” Joseph asked.

“Indeed.”

“They’re both the same dream,” Joseph said. “God has revealed to you what He’s about to do.”

Pharaoh wasn’t any closer to divining the meaning of his dreams. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me what God has so clearly revealed to me.”

“Lord,” Joseph continued, “The seven fat cows and the seven fat ears are seven years of harvest. The seven skinny cows and the seven thin ears are seven years of famine. Like I said, God has given you the meaning of your dream.”

“Indulge me,” Pharaoh said, impatiently. “Are you giving me the weather forecast for the next fourteen years?”

“Precisely, Lord,” Joseph said, standing to his feet. “And as sure as the god of Egypt has dreamed it, it will come to pass.”

Pharaoh scratched his goatee. “Anything else?”

Joseph bowed. “If it pleases my Lord, let Pharaoh put an expert in charge of agriculture. Elect district managers to collect one-fifth of the land’s produce for the next seven years. Store up grain reserves in every city, under your authority, of course. When the famine comes, you’ll be a hero.”

By the time Joseph finished what he had to say, his face was perceptibly radiant. The guards approached to escort him from Pharaoh’s presence.

“Wait,” Pharaoh said. “Is there any other like him? This man hosts the spirit of God Himself.”

Inspiration: Genesis 41

Sibling betrayal

Israel wanted to hear a good report of his sons grazing his flocks so far away, roughly sixty miles from home in Hebron.

“Joseph,” he beckoned. “Go check on your brothers. Come back and tell me they’re taking proper care of my sheep.”

So Joseph left his father in the valley and set off for the lush fields near Shechem. Once he arrived, he began searching the area, and a man noticed him wandering around, looking lost.

“What are you looking for, stranger?” he asked.

I’m looking for my brothers,” he answered. “They’re around here somewhere pasturing my father’s sheep.”

The man answered, “I overheard them say they were going to Dathan,” and he pointed in that direction.

Sure enough, Joseph spotted them in a distant pasture near where the man had said.

“Look,” Simeon said, while Joseph was still far from them. “The dreamer has come to grace us with his presence.” As Joseph continued to approach, they plotted to cut his throat, throw him in an abandoned cistern, and tell their father he’d been slain by a wild beast. “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Reuben wasn’t keen on killing the boy, though. “Don’t spill his blood,” he said. “Just throw him in the pit where he’ll die of his own accord, and with no blood on our hands.” Reuben secretly planned to come back later and rescue his father’s favorite son.

The brothers grabbed Joseph by both arms, stripped him of his multicolored robe, and threw him into the bone-dry pit. Reuben went back to the field to gather the flocks, and the rest of the brothers sat under a tree near the cistern to have some lunch.

A caravan of Ishmaelites approached from the direction of Gilead, and from the looks of the packs on their camels, they were heading to Egypt to sell their wares.

Judah stood up and said, “What good is our brother dead in a pit? Will his blood not still be on our hands?” Then he ran up to the roadside and waved his arms at the approaching merchants.

“What is this?” the leader of the caravan asked through his coarse beard. “Do we already have a buyer for our gum, balm, and resin?”

Judah held up his hand. “Wait here, sirs.” He went back down the hill where his brothers were eating. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sell Joseph to these Ishmaelite traders.”

“Good idea, Judah,” Simeon said. “After all, he’s our brother, not a feral animal.”

“Or worse,” Levi added. “A son of Shechem.”

It was unanimous, so while Judah went to the road to negotiate the sale, the others lifted Joseph out of the cistern. They traded their brother for twenty silver pieces.

By the time the brothers had finished their lunch, Reuben had come back with the sheep and looked into the cistern. Seeing that Joseph was no longer there, he tore his clothes in grief.

He said, “Our brother is gone. What do we do?”

Naphtali tossed Joseph’s cloak on the ground, and Simeon brandished a long knife. Taking a goat from the flocks, he cut its throat and spilled the blood all over the multicolored coat. Taking it to their father, Naphtali said, “Look what we found on the path to Hebron. Didn’t this belong to Joseph?”

Israel tore his robe and wept. “A wild animal has devoured my son!” he lamented. “All that’s left is this bloody cloak.” He put a burlap loincloth around his middle and mourned for days. No amount of comfort from his sons and daughters did any good. “I’ll go into the depths of my son’s grave, mourning all the way,” he rasped.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Like father

Another food shortage occurred, but God told Isaac not to go to Egypt as his father had done. “Instead,” God said, “settle in the land I will show you.” And He echoed the details of the promise He had given to Abraham.

Isaac took his family and settled in Gerar. When the men noticed the alluring Rebekah, Isaac lied for the same reason his father had before him. “She’s my sister,” he told everyone.

After Isaac had been living there for a while as an alien, Abimelech, the Philistine king who had been deceived by Abraham in the past, was peering through his window and saw Isaac caressing Rebekah. He called for Isaac and said, “Obviously, Rebekah is your wife. Why’d you tell everyone she was your sister?”

“I thought I’d be killed, so someone else could have her.”

“What have you done? One of my citizens could have easily taken her to his bed, and you would have forced guilt on us!”

Abimelech remembered the oath of loyalty he had made with Abraham, so he made a blanket decree: “Anyone who touches Isaac or his wife Rebekah, will be executed.”

Inspiration: Genesis 26

Ishmael’s bio

When Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah bore him a son. They named him “Isaac,” He Laughs, remembering God’s promise.

“God made me laugh,” Sarah exclaimed with joy, “and everyone who hears our story will laugh too.”

Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old, and on the day he was weaned, Abraham hosted an elaborate feast. Sarah saw Ishmael poking fun at little Isaac at the celebration, so she told her husband, “Get this slave woman and her son out of our lives. That child will never share in Isaac’s blessing.”

This made Abraham sad because he loved his son Ishmael.

God said, “Don’t worry, Abraham. Do whatever Sarah says, because it will be through Isaac that your name will be carried. But because Ishmael is your son, I’ll make a nation through him, too.”

Abraham got up early the next morning, packed bread and water, and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. They wandered in the wild deserts of Beersheba, but they soon ran out of water.

Hagar placed a dehydrated Ishmael under a shade tree to die of thirst. She put some distance between herself and her son, so she didn’t have to watch him suffer, and she wept in grief.

God heard Ishmael moaning through a parched throat for water, and an angel spoke to Hagar. “What’s wrong, Hagar?” the angel asked. “Don’t worry about your son, because God hears him. Go and lift him from the ground. I’ll make him a great nation.”

God led her to a well of water. She ran over, filled the waterskin, and brought it to her son to drink.

God remained near as the boy grew into a man. He was an expert bowman and lived in the wilderness of Paran. Hagar found him a wife from Egypt, and Ishmael had twelve sons, who became twelve tribal kings. Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years.

Inspiration: Genesis 21, 25

Beauty tips

The land Abram came to conquer was harsh, arid and cracked, and the food was in short supply, so Abram decided to move his family into the fertile land of Egypt for a while. When they entered the city, he pulled his wife aside for a briefing.

“It’s no secret that you’re stunningly beautiful,” he said to Sarai. “And when the Egyptians see you, they’ll slit my throat in the night and steal you away from my bed.” Then Abram suggested, “Tell them I’m your brother. That should neutralize the threat.”

“It will be as you desire it, my lord,” Sarai said, laying her hand over his heart.

As Abram predicted, Sarai’s matchless beauty arrested the attention of the people wherever they went, and word of her fame soon spread to Pharaoh himself. Before long, Sarai stood in rare splendor before the very god of Egypt in his own court.

Sarai became the newest installment in the royal harem, and Pharaoh treated Abram like a brother, giving him sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and slaves. Pharaoh, on the other hand, acquired nothing but a God-given illness after a week or two. Pharaoh had spies everywhere, and putting two and two together, he became wise and confronted Abram on the matter.

“What’s going on?” Pharaoh asked. “Why’d you lie about Sarai being your wife? Thankfully, I never laid a hand on her. Get her out of here so your God will clear the air and restore our health!”

Pharaoh’s officers escorted Abram and Sarai out of Egypt along with their parting gifts.

Inspiration: Genesis 12