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

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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

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

Lofty dreams

Seventeen-year-old Joseph daily shepherded his father’s flocks with his brothers. While his brothers tended flocks in a brute and callous way, Joseph treated each animal with tenderness and compassion. One day, he went to his father and complained that his brothers were treating the herds with cruelty and neglect.

Now, Israel favored Joseph over his other sons, having fathered him in later years with the wife that he loved, and lavished him with expensive gifts. One was a long cloak with sleeves of multicolored layers. Joseph, oblivious to the overt inequality of favor he received from his father, enjoyed parading around in his robe like a proud peacock. Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph for this, and they never missed an opportunity to speak cruelly to him.

One night, Joseph woke up from a dream, and partly out of spite, he shared it with his brothers. “We were all tying up parcels of grain in the field,” he recounted, “when my parcel stood upright, and your parcels gathered around mine and bowed low to the ground.”

The brothers were indignant. Reuben, the oldest, said, “You think you’re going to rule over us?” The others laughed, but their hearts brooded with anger toward Joseph.

Being young, foolish, and increasingly braggadocious, Joseph shared another dream. In the presence of his father and brothers, he said, “I also dreamed the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me.”

Israel balked. “Watch your tongue, boy,” he rebuked, “You think your dead mother, your brothers, and I are going to bow down to you?”

The contents of the boy’s dream reverberated in Israel’s mind, and the brothers stewed quietly as their wrath intensified.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Cleaning house

Jacob shook off the disturbing images of his sons’ bloodlust and prayed for some clear direction. God told Jacob to go back to Bethel and settle there. “Make an altar to me,” God said, “at the place where I appeared when you fled from Esau.”

Jacob knew he needed to set his house right before proceeding further. He made a blanket announcement to all who lived in his camp. “Sons, daughters, wives, servants, gather up all your foreign gods, cleanse yourselves with water from the spring, and change into clean clothes. We’re going to Bethel to build an altar to the God who’s had my back since I fled from my brother so long ago.”

For the next few days, everyone brought Jacob their idols. They removed the earrings they wore as symbols of wealth and substance, and they washed in the brook. Jacob took all the objects of false worship, the gods and the jewelry, and he buried them underneath an oak tree near Shechem.

When they left for Bethel, God inflicted a collective paranoia on all the villages surrounding the people of Israel so that no one dared to venture out from their own house to attack Jacob’s caravan.

They arrived safely at Bethel, and Jacob built his altar. God came to him and said, “Your name is Jacob, but from this moment you’ll be called Israel. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac will be yours, and it’ll belong to your children after you.”

Israel brushed off the old altar of stone he’d erected so many years before, and he named the place “El-Bethel,” The God of God’s House.

Soon afterward, Israel left Bethel and traveled toward Ephrath. Along the way, Rachel struggled through the birth of her son.

“Don’t be scared,” her midwife tried to soothe her. “You’re going to have a son.”

But Rachel’s dying words were, “He will be called ‘Benoni’ Son Of My Pain.

Israel buried his wife Rachel in a tomb and marked it with a boulder somewhere along the road. There, he renamed his newborn child Benjamin. Journeying on, he pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder near Ephrath, also called Bethlehem.

While living there near Bethlehem, Reuben slept with Bilhah, his mother’s servant, and father’s concubine. Israel heard this troubling news, but he would need to think carefully about a suitable punishment for him.

Israel and Esau came to Mamre Oaks at Hebron to bury their father Isaac, who was a hundred and eighty years old when he died. From there, Israel and his family went and settled in Bethel. Altogether, Israel’s sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 35

Wrestle mania

In the dark hours before sunrise the next morning, Jacob stirred his wives, their maids, and his children, and he had them cross the ford of the Jabbok with all his possessions. He instructed them to follow the trail of the peace train moving toward Esau, while he stayed behind for a while to wrestle with his thoughts.

An angel appeared in human form and wrestled with Jacob. The encounter lasted until the sun began its ascent on the horizon.

The angel, unable to release himself from Jacob’s grip, said, “Let me go! The morning dawns!”

Jacob would not relent, so the angel dislocated his leg at the hip joint.

Wailing in agony, he cried, “Bless me first.”

“What’s your name?” the angel asked.

“Jacob.”

The angel said, “Jacob, your spiritual name is “Israel,” Strives With God, because you’ve wrestled with the divine and have won.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

“Why do you want to know that?” the angel asked. “You’re blessed through the way of the promise.”

Jacob named the place “Peniel,” Face of God, wholly in awe that his life was spared after the holy encounter.

The angel disappeared. Jacob lifted himself off the ground and limped toward the direction of his family.

Inspiration: Genesis 32