These are the generations of Jacob. There is Reuben and Simeon and Levi and Judah. Then there is Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. There is Issachar and Zebulun and… Dinah the only daughter. Finally, there is Joseph and Benjamin. And Genesis 43 has them all…even Benjamin. Benjamin seems rather integral to the whole chapter, but I think not in the way we think.
Now the Famine was Severe
And it begins with verse one. “Now the famine was severe in the land.” I like how this is worded in the King James translation of God’s Word. “And the famine was sore in the land.” What is the importance of beginning Genesis 43 by reminding us of this sore famine? It may be to simply remind us that the famine continues! In the previous chapter, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food because “the famine was severe over all the land.” And so Jacob’s sons, all except Benjamin, did just that; they went to Egypt and bought food, a lot of food and returned, all except Simeon.
And so after buying all of that food while Simeon remained detained in Egypt, the severe famine continues. But there is more. As the severe famine continues the food supply dwindled and dwindled and dwindled. Meaning, the end of the food supply was in sight, but the end of the famine was not. And so Jacob speaks up. “Go again, buy us a little food.” Notice two things. Jacob does not say where to go to get food and it is because there is only one place to get food – Egypt! And the grocery list is short. All that is needed is a little food. Why does Jacob think all that is needed is a little food? He must be thinking that the severe famine will end sooner rather than later and a little food will see them through. But what Jacob does not know is that the severe famine has only just begun. It is not until Genesis 45:6 that we discover that this famine has been ongoing for two whole years! And there are five more years of it to come (cf. Genesis 41:30). As long as there is this famine, there will be a need for food. And as long as there is this need for food, Jacob will be sending his sons to Egypt…where Joseph is.
Joseph is referred to as the man throughout this chapter. It is because his true identity is unknown to Jacob and his sons. And the man told Jacob’s sons to not return to Egypt without their youngest brother Benjamin. Without Benjamin they would not see the man’s face (Genesis 43:5). And without Benjamin they would not see Simeon’s face either.
So, what is the point of reminding us of this sore famine? The severe famine is what sent these brothers to Egypt…the first time. And the severe famine is what will send these brothers to Egypt…a second time. Or, the severe famine is what sets in motion what is about to take place. And what is about to take place involves Benjamin.
We Will Not Go Without Benjamin
This is serious. Jacob and his entire family – wives, sons, daughter, daughters-in-law, grandkids – are all hungry. But Judah, the fourth oldest son, will not lead his brothers to Egypt and will not buy food without Benjamin. He reminds his dad of what the man said less than maybe two years ago. Do not come back here without your youngest brother (Genesis 43:3-5). Keep in mind that there is no reminder of Simeon. No one mentions that Simeon has been detained in Egypt for what must be a long time. No one mentions that we need to get Simeon back. In fact, Simeon gets only a passing mention in verse twenty-three.
Again, Judah reminds his dad of what the man said less than maybe two years ago. It is because beginning in Genesis 42:29, upon returning home with all of that food, the brothers told their dad “all that had happened to them” – about the man; about the food; about Simeon and about Benjamin and about returning to Egypt. Listen to Genesis 43:6. This is after Judah’s reminder. “Israel said.” Now pause there because this is important. In Genesis 43, Jacob is only referred to as Israel. Now keep going. “Israel said, ‘Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?’”
In Genesis 42, when the brothers told their dad all that had happened to them, each wanted to immediately return to Egypt with Benjamin. Most likely it was to get Simeon back. Reuben the oldest son, pleaded with his father and even pledged the lives of his sons, if he did not protect and bring Benjamin back to him safely. But Jacob said no. And the famine continued. But Judah pled with his dad and pledged his own life in place of Benjamin if he did not protect and bring Benjamin back to him safely (Genesis 43:7-10; cf. Genesis 42:37-38).
And Jacob Said Yes
At this moment, something changed within Jacob. He said, “Yes.” But it is not a giving in or with some roll of the eyes reluctance. Listen to what he says in Genesis 43:11-14. “Then their father said to them, ‘If it must be so, then do this…’” He tells them to take a present. He tells them to take double their money (for all of their money was returned to them). And he tells them to take Benjamin. All of the brothers, including Simeon, will be in Egypt together. It is so interesting! But I just want to point out the present that the brothers are to take to Egypt for the man, who we all know is Joseph. In that present is “a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds” (43:11). In that present were things that were in the caravan that took Joseph to Egypt; the same caravan that purchased Joseph from the hands of his brothers (cf. 37:25). These are the same brothers who are taking this present to Egypt.
It Happened After He Prayed
And it all happened after he prayed. Who prayed? Listen to verse fourteen. The father, who here is called Israel, prayed for his sons. “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” By what name does Israel call God? God Almighty or in Hebrew, El Shaddai. This father is calling upon the name of God for his sons. Why? Something changed in Jacob. He is praying because he knows that he needs God. And to call him God Almighty is another of way of saying, “I know who you are! And I know what you have promised! And I know that you know me!” Why is Jacob only called Israel in this chapter? It is because he calls God, God Almighty.
Listen to Genesis 35:9-11. “God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” Israel sends his boys, all of them, to Egypt, calling upon God, relying upon who He is and reminding, trusting, declaring God’s promises.
And the whole point of Genesis 43 is that it happened after Jacob prayed for his sons. What is it? And what happened? The beginning to the end. This is the big idea. What is the end and how is this prayer for the end? Notice that Jacob asks God to grant his boys mercy.
Joseph Saw Benjamin
Here it is; it starts with that prayer and then unfolds in verse sixteen. “When Joseph saw Benjamin with them.” Joseph sees his brothers returning and he sees them returning with his brother Benjamin. Now watch this; he tells his steward to bring them, he calls them “the men” because the steward does not know their true identity, into his house. And not only are they to be brought to his house, but a meal is to be prepared for them. “Slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” This is God answering Jacob’s prayer, more than Jacob could have ever imagined: Joseph was about to show his brothers hospitality.
I have never noticed or I guess cared to notice until this week, that in the word hospitality is the word hospital. A hospital is a place for hospitality. It is about giving care to those in need. The steward will do as his superior has said and it will scare these brothers (43:18). First, it catches them off guard and second, everyone knows that these powerful world leaders all have dungeons in their homes. These men think that they are going to prison. But Joseph is about to give care to those in need. And it is a means serving the end. I guess we should ask, what is the need and what is the end? This section, starting with that prayer, is about restoration. There is a broken relationship. These brothers thought that their relationship with Joseph was beyond repair for they assumed him lost, never to be found or dead. Joseph has looked forward to this day for close to thirty years. And keep in mind these men meant evil against Joseph. Joseph was the one offended, insulted, hated. These men spoke ill of him and planned his demise. And yet in seeking restoration, Joseph opened his home upon them, like a hospital, a place of hospitality showing care to those in need. And in need of what? Restoration.
This is about restoration with family. Remember, always remember, we belong to a family, the family of God. So, I am convinced that this is for our good in how to seek restoration with members of the family of God. It begins with prayer. And hospitality is more important than imagined. These brothers will be restored. Forgiveness will be given (Genesis 45:4-15; Genesis 50:15-21). Remember too, that from this family will come the gospel, the light for the nations, mercy, grace and forgiveness and salvation. Jesus the Christ will come from this family!
And in Genesis 43, Joseph will prepare a meal for them. Simeon will be brought in. Joseph will sit alone and eat. His servants will sit alone and eat. The brothers will be seated according to birth order and eat. Kind of similar to when they threw Joseph in that pit. There they then sat and ate apart from him (cf. 37:25). But here their fears will be relieved (43:34). Joseph watches. He watches to see how his brothers react. He will order that Benjamin be given five times as much roast beef and mashed potatoes and carrots and gravy as everyone else. Will the brothers be jealous? Not a word, not a movement, not a care. Joseph knows that change is in the air.
And so, I have watched Joseph realizing something I have never seen before. Restoration within the family of God, the church family, is vital. It is part of understanding the gospel (see Matthew 6:12; 14-15; Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6; Hebrews 12:5-11; Ephesians 4:32). I have not realized that in seeking restoration, for we are to seek restoration, both prayer and hospitality – that showering of care – is necessary and vital and wonderful to that end.
By the way, the glimpse that God is answering Jacob’s prayer is Genesis 43:30. “Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion (same word for mercy in Genesis 43:14) grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.”