When Joseph did not come home from the fields (20 years prior to the events of this chapter), Jacob grieved. Not only did he grieve, but he also enshrined a new idol now that Joseph was gone—i.e, Benjamin. Not sending Benjamin to Egypt was tantamount to giving Joseph the coat of many colors. However, despite Jacob’s idolatry and the remaining dysfunction in the family, God had made promises and He keeps His promises. God is in the business of making peace in the most unlikely of situations through the most unlikely families.
Seeking Simeon? (verses 1-10)
When Jacob realizes that they are running out of food, he nonchalantly says to his sons, “Go back, buy us a little food.” Yet, there is no mention of Simeon, who remains imprisoned in Egypt! There had not been any plan to retrieve him. It takes running out of food for them to return to Egypt, while Simeon’s welfare is not even part of the initial discussion. Judah speaks up on behalf of Simeon, recounting the promised threat (vv. 3-5). Jacob counters Judah with irrational and emotional inquiry (v. 6), showing that really, Jacob only cares about Jacob. He is merely a self-centered old man. Judah plays the man and even volunteers to be cursed for the sake of his family (vv. 8-10). Last time Judah wanted to sell the favorite rather than kill him, just so he could make a little profit. But now, he is committed to rescuing his brother and his family.
Reluctant Resignation (verses 11-15)
Jacob reluctantly resigns and gives in. Finally, in sending Benjamin, he is willing to let go of his idolatry and trust God, the Almighty (c.f. Matt 6:24). The grip that Jacob had on his idol of choice required famine to loosen his fingers from clinging so tightly. Still, despite the glimmer of hope in Jacob’s life, he falls into fatalistic concession, seen in the despondent statement, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
Mercy Manifested (verses 16-25)
When they arrive in Egypt and are informed that a meal is being prepared, they have no idea what to expect. Their guilty conscience led them to imagine the worst: “Will they enslave us? Will they take our donkeys?” Distrust and suspicion are often the results of unconfessed sin. They blurt out their apology and explanation, even before any accusation is made (vv. 20-22). Their words are met with the assurance that there is no need to be afraid (v. 23). The words of peace are followed up with proof of peace, and Simeon is reunited with his brothers (vv. 24-25).
Benjamin Blessed (verses 26-34)
Many years ago, Joseph had a dream that his brothers would bow down to him (Gen 37:5ff). Here we find the fulfillment of that dream. Joseph cannot contain himself when he sees his younger brother, and he excuses himself to weep. He has the brothers arranged at the table in order according to age—the brothers are astonished. Joseph is recreating the tension of sibling rivalry and gives Benjamin five times the portion of his brothers. This is a test: do they still despise the favorite? Are they still jealous? Is the toxic favoritism still alive and well? The last time Joseph saw his brothers eating it was the picnic they enjoyed while he was in the pit begging for his life! However, there are no complaints about Benjamin being blessed—the brothers have made promising progress.
- Jacob’s idolatry and favoritism are being dealt with in these verses. He finally decided to put away his idol and send Benjamin with his brothers to Egypt. What idols are you clinging to? What can you not imagine giving up or living without? What are you holding onto for all your worth? What is your identity wrapped up in? Follow the advice of William Cowper in the words of the hymn: “The dearest idol I have known, what’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee.”
- Judah offered to bear the curse on behalf of the family. One who is far greater than Judah, Jesus Christ, has born the curse on behalf of sinful humanity. He put our sins on His shoulders and bore them to the cross, where the full wrath of God was poured out on Him for the punishment of our sins. Are you trusting in Him as your substitute before God? Are you turning to Him in faith to be freed from the curse that you deserve for your transgression and rebellion against God?