Genesis 43-44: We are defined by our actions…

My study today had me go through both Genesis 43 and 44, so this post will be covering 2 chapters as opposed to the 1 chapter I usually cover per day.

In the previous chapter (42), Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt in search of food to take back to their families in Canaan. Joseph, a man of power now, meets with them (though they don’t recognize him), and works it so that one brother (Simeon) has to stay in Egypt while the rest return to Canaan to get their other brother Benjamin and bring him back. Their father, Jacob, refuses to let Benjamin go. So in chapter 43, we see that what little food they were able to bring back from their first trip to Egypt has run out, and Jacob is now telling his sons to go back and get more. The sons, of course, know that they cannot go without taking Benjamin, and Judah stands up and says that he will take personal responsibility for Benjamin if Jacob will let him go with them. Jacob says yes, and they all head to Egypt for a second time. Joseph greets them when they arrive, and of course, they bow to him. Joseph prepares a feast at his home and gives Benjamin 5 times as much food as the others (he is his full-blood brother, after all). He gives them all the grain they can carry, he returns their silver, and he has one of his possessions (a silver cup) placed in Benjamin’s bag without any of his brothers knowing it. When the brothers head back to Canaan, Joseph has his servant stop them and accuse them of stealing his cup. The brothers vehemently deny that they would do this, but when they open their bags, Benjamin is found to have the cup in his bag. Benjamin is taken back to Joseph (supposedly to become Joseph’s slave), and the rest of the brothers go with him – they had promised their father they wouldn’t let anything happen to little Ben. Judah, who had taken personal responsibility for Benjamin, approaches Joseph and pleads to take Benjamin’s place, saying that his father would die if Benjamin was lost.

The thing that stood out to me today was the role of Judah throughout this entire story. If you recall earlier in the story, when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelite merchants as a slave, it was really Judah’s idea. In Genesis 37:26-27 it says “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.”  Of course, you could look at this and say that Judah was talking his brothers out of killing Joseph, and this would place him in a much better light – but from a more responsible approach, if Judah had been wanting to take better care of Joseph, he wouldn’t have let him be sold as a slave. In general, slavery in ancient Egypt may not have been as bad as some people might think (see this site for a description of the treatment of Ancient Egyptian slaves), but this is not to say that slaves were not treated harshly and beaten, or that they had very few, if any, liberties of their own. To some, life without freedom is worst than death. So I contend with the point that Judah was being responsible here.

Interestingly, though Judah may have come up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave, he was much more responsible when it came to handling Benjamin’s life. A lot had happened in Judah’s life since Joseph had left (see Genesis 38 to read about the Tamar debacle). Judah personally stood up and took responsibility for Benjamin with his father – he told him “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.” (Genesis 43:8-9), and Jacob gave in.  This tells me that Jacob may have had a lot more respect for Judah than Reuben (the oldest) – when they had returned from their first journey to Egypt and asked to take Benjamin back, and Jacob refused, Reuben told Jacob “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back” (Genesis 42:37). Of course, Reuben had slept with one of Jacob’s wives (see Genesis 35:22). But Jacob still refused that first time. Jacob listened to Judah and allowed Benjamin to go.

When they were before Joseph and about to lose Benjamin as a slave, Judah stood up and begged for Benjamin’s life – he pleaded that he be taken as a slave instead of Benjamin, at least for the sake of their father’s life. I’m not sure most people would see the correlation between the fact that Judah had sold Joseph as a slave, but wouldn’t allow Benjamin to be taken as one.  We saw in the previous chapters how guilt had affected the brothers, and this stand taken by Judah was an action he was willing to take to make up for the fact that he had screwed up in this area once already. He wasn’t going to let it happen again.

I, personally, am not a Judah fan (the person, not the kingdom that came later). I’m still a little mad about the whole sell-Joseph-as-a-slave thing. And I haven’t forgotten how he treated Tamar – sending her off to her father’s home so that he doesn’t have to deal with her, then so easily permitting her to be killed for prostitution when he himself had just recently slept with a prostitute (it was her, but he didn’t know that). But he shows a little growth here, and his actions prove that.

So much of how we live in our journeys through Christian spirituality is internal (i.e., belief, hope, knowledge, love) that sometimes it’s so easy to go around acting like we are doing well spiritually, when actually we’re dead as can be. It’s when we display actions that prove that we have these internal qualities that we are truly spiritually alive.

  • Sure, we can believe all we want – “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19). Without outward signs of trust – living outwardly as if we trust God wholeheartedly – belief is not faith. It’s just belief, and it gets you nowhere.
  • Hope is wonderful – I know a lot of people who hope they win the lottery, but if they never buy a ticket, their hope is in vain.
  • They say that knowledge is power, but I disagree. I love martial arts movies, and I have a few instructional books, but without actually physically practicing under the instruction of someone else, I will never be a proficient martial artist.
  • Many people try to go through their marriages getting by on the ‘feelings’ of love. Unfortunately, our feelings change from day to day, and people’s marriages fail day after day. Love is a verb – it requires action.

So, although I’m still a little mad a Judah for his past transgressions, I will say that his actions are showing that he is not the same guy he used to be. And if we want to prove ourselves to be spiritually health, we must take action as well. It’s our actions that define us.

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Filed under Bible Study, Genesis

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