Blessings, curses

“Gather around,” Israel told his sons as they entered his tent in the cool of the evening. “I want to tell you what to expect in the coming days.”

All twelve sons presented themselves before their patriarch, each anticipating a blessing to carry them forward after his death.

“Reuben, my firstborn, the might of my youth, great in rank and power,” Israel began. “You went in and defiled your father’s bed. You’re unstable and your best days are behind you.”

Reuben fell to his knees and began to weep.

“Simeon and Levi,” Israel continued. “Brothers of violence, woe to those who would join in your company. In anger you kill men, and in jest, you slaughter innocent animals. You’re divided as brothers, and you’ll be scattered as tribes in Israel.”

Simeon and Levi slumped where they stood, the lines in their faces betraying a lifetime of wrath.

“Judah.”

Judah straightened his spine, bracing himself for whatever came next.

“Judah, your brothers will bow before you and praise you, and your enemies will fall under your yoke. You’re a lion’s cub, drawing vitality from the kill. When you stretch out like a lion, who dares to rouse you? The king’s scepter will remain in your hand, its base will rest at your feet until your people come with their tribute and obedience. The traveler will come into your land and tie his colt to the nearest vine, for wine will be as abundant as water.”

Judah closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been unconsciously holding.

“Zebulun, you’ll settle on the seashore of Sidon, a safe harbor for coming ships. Issachar, you’d sooner nap between the sheep pens than to earn your keep and enjoy your freedom, so you’ll be a slave to others. Dan, you’ll serve as the justice of the peace among the tribes. Like a viper who strikes the horse’s heel, your bite will bring the rider down swiftly.”

Israel paused, as if in thought. He looked up and sighed deeply. “Save us, Lord,” he expelled, looking as if he would faint.

Judah stepped forward to steady the man, but Israel held up his hand. “We wait for you, Lord.”

Judah stepped back, and the tent was silent for a few minutes. Then Israel continued.

“Gad will be overtaken by bandits, but he’ll get his revenge. Asher will prepare food fit for kings. Naphtali will be a free-range deer, and his offspring will be nimble and beautiful. And Joseph…”

Israel reached out his arms, and his beloved son knelt at his feet.

“Joseph is a flourishing tree by a brook, his branches scaling the castle walls. Archers attack with brutality to no avail. He nocked his bow by the steady hand of God, the guiding Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. The God of your father will continue to steady your hand and bless you with gifts from the heavens above and from the depths below, blessings of nourishment and fertility. My blessings are greater than all the bounty that the timeless mountains have provided, and they rest upon your head. My son, you are set apart from your brothers.”

Joseph kissed his father’s hand and returned to stand among his brothers.

“Benjamin, my joy, you are a hungry wolf. In the morning you hunt your prey, and in the evening you share the spoils.”

Israel drew himself onto the bed and leaned his head on the banister.

“I’m prepared to be gathered to my ancestors. By Joseph’s word, I’ll be buried at Machpelah Cave near Mamre Oaks, purchased by my grandfather, Abraham, who is buried there with his wife, Sarah. My parents, Isaac and Rebekah, are buried there. My wife, Leah, is buried there.”

Then, Isaac drew his final breath.

Inspiration: Genesis 49

Ephraim’s blessing

Israel was getting old, so he called for Joseph. Placing his son’s hand underneath his own thigh, he said, “Testify now, that you’ll not bury me here in Egypt. Lie me down with my ancestors. You know the place.”

Joseph vowed to carry out his father’s desire. Realizing time was short, Joseph left Goshen and returned with his two sons. He wanted them to meet the man of God before he passed from the earth.

“Joseph has returned,” a servant told Israel, leading Joseph and his sons into the tent. “He has brought his sons with him.”

Israel summoned energy enough to sit up at the side of his bed. He squinted his eyes and remembered long ago when his own father was almost blind and couldn’t discern who stood before him.

“God showed Himself to me at Luz in Canaan,” Israel intonated, his voice weak and trembling. “God blessed me and said, ‘I’m making nations from you, and they will inherit this land forever.’ For this reason, and because my beloved Rachel died in childbirth, your sons will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are my sons. Their children will be yours, but as far as the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh, they will be equal to Reuben and Simeon.”

Israel rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. “Come closer. Bring your sons near to me so I may bless them.”

Joseph led his sons to his father’s bedside, and Israel gathered them up, one on each knee. He embraced them affectionately and kissed them.

“I didn’t expect to see you ever again,” he said to his son, “and yet God has allowed me to see your sons as well.”

Joseph knelt low and bowed his head to the earth, then removed his sons from their grandfather’s lap. He positioned Ephraim to stand at Israel’s left side and Manasseh to stand at his right.

Israel lifted his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, the younger brother. Then, crossing his arms, he placed his left hand upon Manasseh, the firstborn. Closing his eyes, he said, “God, You walked with Abraham and Isaac, You’ve been–”

Joseph interrupted. “This one is my firstborn,” he said, taking his father’s hand from Ephraim and placing it onto Manasseh’s head.

Israel put his right hand back onto Ephraim’s head. “I know, son. Manasseh will also become a great nation. But Ephraim will be greater still. His family tree will become nations upon nations.” Then he added, “Your people will invoke blessings by saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

Joseph stepped back and let his father continue.

Isaac closed his eyes again. “God of Abraham and Isaac, You have been my shepherd all the days of my life, and Your angels have guarded me against injury. Bless these young men. Preserve my name and my family’s name through them, and let them grow into a mighty family on earth.”

The boys returned to their father’s side, and Joseph bowed once again.

“I’m dying,” Israel said, “but God is with you, and he’ll return you to the land of your fathers. I now grant you an extra portion beyond your inheritance, the spoils of my earthly conquests.”

Inspiration: Genesis 48 

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

Alternative plan

After three days, Zaphenath sent for the prisoners.

The brothers presented themselves and pressed in meekly before their Egyptian lord.

“Do what I say, and you’ll live to tell about it,” he said through his interpreter. “If you’ve told me the truth, you’ll have no objection to elect one among you to stay here in my prison while the rest take the grain you’ve purchased to your father and his people. Return with your youngest brother.”

The brothers all looked at one another in confusion. Their lord would release all but one of them instead of imprisoning all but one.

“This we will do,” Reuben answered with a most humble bow. “We give thanks for your kindness.”

“Do as I have instructed, and you’ll be vindicated and live,” Zaphenath emphasized. “I fear God, so I’ll have no innocent blood on my hands.”

They all nodded in agreement, then spoke quietly among themselves.

“This is all happening because of what we did to Joseph,” Judah said.

“We’re paying the price for his innocence,” Dan added.

“We’re paying for his blood,” Reuben corrected.

“Joseph begged for mercy, and we betrayed him,” Simeon said. “We’ve cursed ourselves.”

Reuben elevated his gaze. “I told you not to hurt him,” he said, his eyes glistening with tears.

They stood before Zaphenath, and all the brothers wailed in sorrow. They didn’t know that Zaphenath understood every word they spoke in Hebrew. They didn’t realize they wept for the blood pumping in the veins of their Egyptian lord.

Zaphenath turned away from his brothers, whose cries echoed off the chamber walls, and he wept privately. Then, having composed himself, he returned. Pointing a finger to no one in particular, he commanded, “Bind him!”

The guards brought Simeon forward and fastened heavy chains around his wrists, his ankles, and his neck. He was led out of the great hall.

Zaphenath ordered his officers to fill eight bags of grain and collect the amount owed from each brother. They did exactly as they were instructed, then provided food for the brothers’ journey, loaded their donkeys with grain, and sent them on their way.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Dinah’s avengers

When Leah’s daughter Dinah went out to visit the women in the area, the prince of Shechem noticed her. After grabbing her in the street and brutally raping her, he decided instead that he loved her. So he helped her to her feet and spoke gently to console her.

Later that day, the prince demanded of his father Hamor, “I want her as my wife!”

Word got back to Jacob that his daughter had been sexually assaulted, but since his sons were working with the cattle, he brooded all alone. When Hamor came out to speak with Jacob, the sons were also returning from the field. When they heard from Jacob what had happened, they were outraged by the offense done to a daughter of Israel.

Hamor tried to bargain with them. “My son longs for Dinah,” he said. “Please give her as his wife. For that matter, why not marry our daughters, and let us marry yours. Our land will be yours in which to buy, sell, and trade freely.”

The prince showed up and offered himself to them. “I come in peace,” he said. “Whatever you ask of me, I will grant it to you. Consider it my wedding gift. I must have her as my wife.”

“Wedding gift?” Simeon stammered. “You’re prostituting our—”

“The price will be impossibly high,” Jacob interrupted. “We can’t give our daughters to an uncircumcised people.”

The prince and Hamor stood silently before Jacob and his sons.

“But,” Levi spoke up, “on the condition that both of you, as well as every male in your town, cut off their foreskins, our sister will be yours to marry.”

“And our daughters will be yours,” Simeon added. “Yours will be ours. We’ll become one people.”

“And these wide, open spaces will be ours to share,” Levi said.

“Otherwise, we’ll take our daughters and move on,” Jacob said, doubting they’d take such audacious conditions seriously.

But the prince and his father Hamor agreed. The young prince was so eager for the love of his betrothed that he had Jacob do the honors right then and there.

Hamor and the prince went to the city gate and relayed to the men of Shechem all that had been discussed with the tribe of Israel. “If we do this thing,” the prince reasoned, “will not their property and livestock be ours?”

Every male who was present agreed to the circumcision by leaving the city gate. Jacob and his sons were on the other side, sharpening their knives.

After two days, and while every male of the city was still sore, Simeon and Levi entered the gates in long cloaks. One by one, they raided each house brandishing swords, and they slew their hapless enemies.

“This is for Dinah,” they’d say, as the cold steel cut through each male’s flesh. Finally, they reached the house of the prince, where he and his father were lying in recovery. Simeon and Levi entered, each standing over their victim.

“As our father said,” Levi sneered as both brothers raised their swords, “the price for Dinah is impossibly high.”

After slaughtering Hamor and his rapist son, they collected Dinah and her belongings and left.

The rest of Jacob’s sons came in behind Dinah’s avengers and plundered the city on Dinah’s behalf. They took flocks, herds, donkeys, everything of value, and they captured their women and children for their own devices.

Jacob was distraught by the news of Shechem’s demise. “You’ve made me an enemy to all my neighbors,” he said. “You’ve slaughtered these Hivites. If the Canaanites and Perizzites come together against me, we’ll all be destroyed.”

Simeon said, “You’d rather our sister be treated like a whore?”

Levi muttered under his breath, “Is this not where God first promised this land to our great-grandfather Abraham?”

Inspiration: Genesis 34