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

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