There remains this tension between the social contract of Egypt and the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Pharaoh is a powerful king. Perhaps at this point, the most powerful in all the world. The social contract is fickle. The power and the maturity of a social contract waxes and wanes, and ends. Social contracts always break eventually. They always end.
Joseph recognizes this vulnerability and that the children of Israel can never integrate.
So the lever of power in this world is social contract. This power recognizes the value of the wisdom of covenant without embracing the covenant itself. Co-exist. Like modern Amish in America, there is a faint appreciation for quaint anachronism. But a community of covenant always retains a counter-cultural determination to centralize God. And every social contract will eventually find this inconvenient.
Jacob Is satisfied. I’m thinking about this.
Judah has proved trustworthy. Not only has he brought home Benjamin, but also news that Joseph is alive. Jacob trusts him to lead the tribe and sends him ahead on the road to Goshen.
Joseph is alive and all the dreams have come true. Though Jacob never bows before Joseph, all of Egypt has bowed before him.
Jacob has a satisfaction so deep that he is content with his life. His hopes, his dreams, his life work has all been achieved.
I long to experience this satisfaction. To hear God say, “well done good and faithful servant”. Not only to hear – but to actually be a good and faithful servant.
It’s interesting that the author records the children of Israel not in birth order, but rather in birth order by mother beginning with the least loved wife Leah.
Sisters still contending in the children and their children’s children. Deference to tradition. But really, the tradition is disruption. It’s three generations that the first born has failed to enter into the primogenitor privilege.
They say God has no grandchildren.
It’s always been about faith. It’s always been about one person responding to the possibility of relationship with another.
The report comes in: “Joseph is alive”. Jacob goes to Beersheba – back to God. God reassures Jacob to go to Egypt with a prophecy. The journey to Egypt begins.
It’s the resurrection of a vision. A hope that has long died; though it never really died. The hope never really died. It’s just there was no plausible story whereby Jacob would ever see Joseph again. He lived decades of years knowing that there was no path back to relationship with his beloved son.
And then, the path that was really always there, is suddenly obvious. And even in advanced age and infirmity, there is no question of not going.
You get on the wagon and go.
Get on the wagon and go.
“What are we going to tell our father?”
As amazing and wonderful as it is, Joseph’s revealing of himself has created another problem for the brothers: Jacob is bound to eventually ask the question – “How was Joseph taken to Egypt in the first place?”
What are the brothers going to say?
With the exception of Joseph’s admonition “not to quarrel”, none of this is written down. It’s a three day journey to Egypt. It’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room. How could they not discuss it?
It’s interesting that neither Joseph’s forgiveness nor Pharaoh’s largess has solved all of their problems. Being saved means living real life.
They still have work to do.
Joseph knew that revealing himself would cause different reactions – mostly horror. With the exception of Benjamin, his brothers were terrified.
Imagine, if you will, Jesus returning in glory. You see him afar descending on a cloud in the most brilliant light imaginable. Utter glory. The splendor overwhelms you with awe. He comes closer and as he does, you suddenly realize that He looks just like the person you have most abused in your life. The person that you took advantage of. The person with whom you were never reconciled. The person you failed to help in their desperate moment of need. The person you persecuted because of a disagreement.
And that’s Jesus.
This is how the brothers saw Joseph at the moment of his revealing. The sudden realization that they are standing before the most powerful person in the world. A person that they have hated, and abused, and nearly murdered.
And then he says, “Come closer. It’s OK.”
Is it any wonder that we wish Jesus was a fable?
It isn’t so much that Joseph surprised his brothers with the revelation of his identity. Rather it is Joseph’s surprise at who Judah has turned out to be.
Joseph showed no signs that he intended to reveal himself. Yet because of Judah’s persistent unwillingness to leave Benjamin alone as a slave in Egypt, Joseph couldn’t control himself. His plan, which never involved revealing himself, was foiled by Judah. Despite his own intentions, Judah’s solidarity and faithfulness caused Joseph to change his plan. Joseph revealed himself despite himself. Overcome with affection, Joseph could not help himself.
It’s a strange and scary thought. What if Jesus, like Joseph, does not intend to reveal himself to the self-righteous defenders of their own self-interest. He lets us live this life. He causes his rain to fall on both the righteous and the unrighteous. But what if He doesn’t necessarily intend to reveal himself to every one of us.
Could I “surprise” Jesus with my solidarity and faithfulness to my brothers? If I did, would He reveal himself to me?
The brothers are in a tough spot. They had to be thinking, “How stupid could Benjamin be; stealing something from the most powerful man in the world?” That’s, of course, exactly what Joseph wanted them to think.
It’s Judah as leader. Like Reuben had done before offering to slaughter his two sons, the brother’s all offer the impossible. They claim that they are all willing to accept Benjamin’s punishment and become Joseph’s slaves. There’s a question of sincerity here… but, in any case, this isn’t Joseph’s plan. He wants Benjamin. He wants the brothers to hate Benjamin so they will give up and leave him behind.
It’s a curious contest now between the two protagonist: Judah and Joseph. Decades before, Joseph pleaded with Judah but was unheard. Now Judah pleads with Joseph and Joseph is equally determined to not to hear.
Joseph knew that the man who had sold him into slavery 25 years before would predictably do the same thing now. Joseph’s plan was a bet that Judah would forsake Benjamin. He was convinced that Judah would leave Benjamin behind if there was a plausible enough reason. He could not know that he was dealing with a different man – a different Judah.
“The old has passed away, the new has come.”
The silver cup frame-up. The money back in the bags. The apparent divination. Benjamin is the target. Joseph’s goal is to get Benjamin away from his brothers without them realizing that he is their betrayed brother Joseph.
So what? What would Joseph do once he got Benjamin away from the brothers?
He would set Benjamin, the innocent and only full brother, as a prince in Egypt. He would care for him and provide for him in the way he wasn’t able in the years since he was sold as a slave. This, apparently, is Joseph’s plan.
When the brother’s come to realize that Benjamin stole the special cup from the most powerful man in the world, they will disown him. Their judgement will be swift and mercilessly indifferent. Joseph is sure that he knows his brothers hearts.
It is a fundamental reality that human persons judge one another on the basis of reputation. We do this in order to anticipate and plan for outcomes. Therefore, make a good name for yourself.
What is Joseph doing? The men are rightly perplexed. They weren’t looking to feast. They just wanted to get food and their brother Simeon back – with the hope that nothing else would go wrong. The whole thing is – but they are powerless.
Sitting at table when someone reveals something about you, but it’s not clear how they have such information, is uncomfortable. Joseph’s reputation is to make the brothers believe that he has extraordinary powers, even beyond the power to interpret dreams. This is he purpose.
Overwhelmed by Josephs’ insight, the brothers are awed at his presence and curiously wary of the meaning of these experiences.
It’s our secrets that make us feel most vulnerable.