The famine continues and Jacob/Israel (who gets to be called Israel again) & sons eat up all the grain they had bought from Joseph. This is enough for Jacob/Israel to decide to send his sons back into Egypt – something that Simeon’s captivity did not do. Or, as my study bible puts it: “Simeon, left as a hostage in Egypt, is apparently forgotten, for the brothers return only when more grain is needed.” Well, he’s no Joseph or Benjamin.
We saw this Abraham, we saw this with Isaac, we certainly saw it with Noah… It’s the idea that some kids are one’s real kids and all the others are just expendable. Nice to have as herders, perhaps, but not worth getting all emotional over. God does the same thing to Cain and Abel. Are these “biblical family values” the religious right keeps trying to push?
Despite starvation and the urging of his father, Judah refuses to go. He reminds Jacob/Israel that Egypt’s governor had told them that they won’t get to see him unless they bring Benjamin along. And, since Joseph is personally handling the distribution of grain to every single nation of the world (American aborigines included), that leaves Judah and family grainless.
Jacob/Israel says: “Why did you treat me so ill as to tell the man that you had another brother?” (Gen. 43:6). Another, better brother. A brother who isn’t expendable.
Judah responds that the man had asked pointed questions, asking specifically about their father and whether they had another brother. Besides, how could they have known that the governor or Egypt would want to see some unremarkable Hebrew kid?
Judah then appeals to his father, begging him to let Benjamin go “that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones” (Gen. 43:8). See, this is how a real father would act. None of this “and also our little ones – except George. He can die for all I care” business. He gives his word that he will keep Benjy safe.
Jacob/Israel finally agrees, and tells his sons to take some additional gifts, as well as the money they had been sent home with just in case it was an oversight that they were able to keep it.
Joseph sees his brothers approaching with Benjamin, so he tells his steward to slaughter an animal for dinner and to show the men in. This, of course, terrifies the brothers. They assume that they are being brought to their doom because of the money that they took out of Egypt. They are afraid that Joseph means to make them slaves to to “seize our asses” (Gen. 43:18). Just what kind of slaves are we talking about here?
They go to the steward and explain to him that they don’t know how the money got into their sacks, but that they’ve brought it back. The steward tells them not to worry, that their God must have put the money in their sacks for them as he did receive the payment for the last batch of grain. Then he brought Simeon out to them.
Dinner is served
When Joseph gets home, the brothers present him with all the gifts they brought for him. Joseph asks them about their father, and whether he’s still alive. When he sees Benjamin, he has to run out of the room to weep before he can return and call for dinner to be served. (Hilariously, the KJV has it that he had to run out of the room “for his bowels did yearn upon his brother” – Gen. 43:30.)
Interestingly, the Egyptians and the Hebrews eat separately because the Egyptians “might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 43:32). I found it rather interesting that it’s the Egyptians who are set apart in this story for their laws of ritual purity, rather than the Hebrews. I guess that comes later, as they leave Egypt. Funny how God would give them commandments that would make them more like their former captors…
Joseph, like his father, makes his favouritism clear. He serves Benjamin portions that are five times as large as what the other brothers get.