Eliphaz again?

Eliphaz spoke up. “So, if God rewards the wicked, I suppose you’re telling me he punishes the righteous. Do you see how backward that is? No, he’s punishing you because you’re endlessly wicked!

“Maybe I can help jog your memory. Did you refuse to lend someone money? Or did you loan them money only if they put up collateral? That must be it. You stripped the meat off their bones. Did you withhold water from the thirsty or food for the hungry? No doubt you freely gave to the wealthy and important. You ignored widows and injured orphans. That’s why you’re terrified and surrounded by darkness.

“You figured that God was too high above us and shrouded in holy smoke to notice your crimes. And what of your children’s crimes? Don’t you see that those who walk the ancient path of the dragon are snatched away in their youth and they never plant seeds for a legacy? They say, ‘We want nothing of God because he has nothing to give.’ They have forgotten all the good things they enjoyed while living under your roof. Now we who are innocent laugh at the wicked man’s scorn.

“Stop fighting with God! Admit you’re wrong, turn away from your sins and you’ll find peace. Return to God and heed his way. Give up your love of money, release your lost gold, and let God be your treasure.”

Inspiration: Job 22

Welfare system

After Israel and his family had settled, and Joseph provided everything they needed from his own house, he went back to the business of rationing his stores of grain for the rest of the people in the land.

The famine devastated Egypt and Canaan entirely until no food could be found anywhere. Joseph began to collect all the money down to the last hoarded shekel, and he brought it in cargo loads into Pharaoh’s house. In exchange, he provided the people the grain they so desperately needed to survive.

The priests were not included in this bargain, as they subsisted on a food allowance from Pharaoh and would never want for anything for as long as the dynasty had the means to provide.

When the rest of Egypt ran out of grain and had no money to pay for it, they came crawling back to Joseph. “Please, for the love of Pharaoh,” they pleaded, “give us something to eat. What good is a mummified kingdom? You must save us!”

“Your livestock for grain,” Joseph decreed.

The people, having no other alternative, brought their beasts of burden, their flocks, and herds, and they exchanged them all for a year’s supply of food.

The next year, the Egyptian people came back to beg once more. “We have no money, and we have no cattle. What’s left of your servants except for our bodies and our lands? What good is a dynasty of corpses? Take our farms and fields from us, and let us become your slaves to work the land.”

Joseph answered, “Let it be as you say,” and he purchased every acre in Egypt for Pharaoh. From east to west, every landowner became slaves on the very ground they used to possess.

Joseph parceled seed in every area for the slaves of Egypt to sow. “At harvest,” the viceroy commanded, “you’ll bring me one-fifth of your yield. Four-fifths will be yours for food and for seed.”

The people were all too glad to abide by their master’s commands, for they owed their lives to him. The worst of the famine had passed, and the skies began to show signs of reprieve.

All the while, Pharaoh’s priests never misses a meal, and Joseph’s father, chosen by God to lay the foundation of a great promise, had plenty of food to provide for his people in the fertile land of Goshen.

Inspiration: Genesis 47

Benjamin detained

Zaphenath summoned his steward and said, “Take these men’s empty sacks and overfill them with food. Then put their money back at the top of each sack.”

“Yes, lord,” the steward said.

“Take my cup,” Zaphenath continued, “and put it in the sack that belongs to Benjamin, the youngest brother.”

The brothers didn’t understand the Egyptian tongue and didn’t know what was happening.

“Yes, lord.” The steward took the royal cup and left the assembly.

The next morning, the brothers loaded their donkeys and took to the road leading out of the city. They hadn’t gone far when Zaphenath directed his steward again.

“Go, overtake the brothers on the road and ask, ‘Why have you betrayed your lord who treated you with love and compassion? He has given you everything, and yet you’ve stolen his silver cup!’”

So the steward and his retinue overtook the brothers, who had just begun their long journey into the harsh wilderness to Canaan.

“Halt! Why have you stolen your lord’s silver cup when he treated you with so much respect? Does he not drink from his cup and use it to divine the will of God?”

Reuben, in shock, replied, “Why are you accusing us of this? We’d never do that! We brought back the money we found at the top of our sacks on our first visit. Stealing from our lord doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nevertheless, you have done this evil thing. This is how Israel’s sons repay Egypt’s hospitality.”

“If you find our lord’s cup in anyone’s possession,” Judah said, white knuckles clutching his staff, “put him to death.”

“More than that, “Reuben added, “we will all return with you and become slaves in your house.”

“By my lord’s will, who is merciful,” the steward said, dismounting his horse, “whoever has the cup will return with us as a slave of the house. The rest of you may go free.”

Every brother dropped his sack to the ground and untied it. The steward went around to every bag, beginning with Reuben the elder and ending with Benjamin the younger.

“What have we here?”

When the steward found the cup in Benjamin’s sack, his men tied Benjamin’s wrists and escorted him back to the palace.

The brothers tore their garments and lamented until the sun shone directly overhead. Then, just as they had done earlier that morning, they fastened their loads, but instead of going home, they went back to the city.

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Warm reception

Zaphenath greeted the travelers as they made their way into the courtyard, and he instantly recognized the eyes of his mother in the face of Benjamin. He called for his steward and said, “These men will dine with me at noon. Escort them into the house, and prepare a feast, sparing no expense.”

The steward followed his orders, and the brothers found themselves in a large chamber with high ceilings. Its walls were adorned with color drawings of battle scenes, harvest festivals, and royal weddings. Three servants came in, dressed in loincloths, each carrying a bowl of water and a towel. Two more servants followed with a pitcher of water and cups. They all smelled strongly of incense.

Judah lifted a foot tentatively as a servant cradled his heel in his hand and began wiping off the dust. He whispered to Reuben. “Is this a trap?”

Reuben shrugged, his eyes watching the entrance to the room. He looked into his cup and gave it a sniff before taking a sip. It was pure water, refreshing to the taste.

“It’s about the money,” Judah said, his eyes blinking rapidly. “He brought us here to make us slaves.”

Seeing the steward come in, Reuben approached him. “Lord, there’s been a misunderstanding,” he began to explain. “We paid for grain on our first trip, but after we left the city to return home, we found that we still had every shekel in our possession.” Then motioning to a large sack he had brought in, he said, “We’ve brought the money back in addition to money for more grain.”

The steward put up a hand. “Relax, your God must have worked some good magic. I got your money on the first visit.”

At that moment, Simeon walked in, unchained. He looked as mean as usual but relatively healthy. “Hello, brothers,” he said with a mischievous smile. “Did you miss me?”

“Now, when you’re finished here, we’ll adjourn to the dining hall,” the steward said, clapping Reuben on the back. “Your donkeys are already feasting in my barns.”

Inspiration: Genesis 43

Hard bargain

The famine worsened, and soon they consumed all the grain brought back from Egypt.

“Go back to Egypt,” Israel told his sons. “Bring back enough to feed us awhile longer.”

Judah said, “The man gave us a grave warning. If we return to Egypt without our brother Benjamin, we’ll be captured, killed, and put on display. And you and the rest of your house will die of starvation.”

“He’s right, Father,” Reuben said. “If Benjamin doesn’t go with us, we don’t go.”

Israel’s face reddened, and his eyes tightened. “What have you done? Why did you tell the man you had another brother?”

Reuben answered, “The man wouldn’t stop asking questions about where we came from. He accused us of being spies from the north.”

“We insisted that we were godly men from the same father,” Zebulun added, “and that we also had a brother at home.”

“He called us liars,” Judah said. “He wouldn’t relent. How were we to know he’d require us to return with Benjamin?”

Israel’s eyes turned cold and hard.

“Dear Father,” Judah coaxed. “By God’s mercy, put Benjamin in my charge and give us leave.”

The brothers inched forward, anticipating their father’s response.

“Look at you, Father,” Judah persisted. “You’re famished, and your family will starve soon.”

“We’d be there and back twice by now,” Dan chimed in.

Judah said, “I’ll vouch for Benjamin. If he dies, I die.”

Israel saw that he was outnumbered and out of options. “Go on then,” he relented. “Present gifts to the man. Take balm. Take honey, gum, resin, pistachios, and almonds. And take twice the amount of money you paid the first time. It was likely an oversight you can make right.”

“And what about our brother,” Judah asked.

“Take him, and may God be merciful when you face the lord of Egypt.” Israel slumped in his chair and lowered his gaze. “I heart goes with you.”

The brothers embraced their father and made ready the provisions and money for the journey. Hoisting Benjamin on a donkey, they followed the trail west toward the vast and opulent land of Egypt.

Inspiration: Genesis 43

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