Although man does not live by bread alone, man does live by bread. His earthly life, and body of flesh depend upon bread for continued existence. For did not the same Jesus, Who told Satan that man does not live by bread alone, also teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”? Indeed man is constantly faced with the bread question. That very prayer teaches us that every day this question is there. Be he believer or unbeliever, young or old, white or black, bond or free, man faces every day the question, “What shall we eat, and what shall we drink?”
There are, however, different ways to ask that question. Jesus tells us not to ask that question in such a way that bread becomes an end in itself. No, we are to seek the kingdom of God first, that is, as the priority in our lives, and then do so in the assurance that God will add to us the bread that we need to seek that kingdom. The kingdom is the end that we seek. Bread is a means that we seek and pray for in order to have the life and strength to seek that kingdom. The unbeliever seeks bread for bread’s sake and so that he may seek the world and its lusts.
This does not rule out two undeniable truths. We must be industrious and take care that there is bread. We must make use of the means which God provides for the obtaining of our daily bread. But we must not worry about it. For if we are anxious about it we reveal that we are not making the seeking of God’s kingdom the priority in our lives, and that our heart is not right for seeking that kingdom; and also that we are not seeking bread only as a means but as an end in itself. And the second truth is that the believer still has his old nature and that therefore in the day of the Antichrist he will be under great temptation to take the mark of the beast in order to be able to buy and sell for his bread’s sake, and his earthly life’s sake. That is why even today men will defend themselves while walking contrary to the rule of that kingdom of God which is found in II Corinthians 6, so that they are unequally yoked with unbelievers in worldly, rebellious, fifth-commandment-defying unions that are only concerned with bread and have no interest at all in seeking the kingdom of God. And they try to defend themselves by asking, “I have a God-given calling to provide food for my family, do I not?” They also brush aside the rule of the Kingdom in Romans 13 where we are told by God Himself to “be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive damnation to themselves.” And that employers are powers is plain from I Peter 2:18, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the gentle, but also to the froward.” And masters are power, or, as a clearer translation would have it, authorities. Those who seek the kingdom of God—which is a realm where all consciously and willingly seek God’s glory, and is therefore called the kingdom of God, the kingdom where God is all in all the lives of all who are in it—will do nothing against the laws of His kingdom. The new life in them will let go the job and means of obtaining bread rather than break a law of that kingdom. He seeks the kingdom FIRST. Bread comes in the way of seeking that kingdom.
Now Jacob, the believer, was no exception to this matter of facing the bread question. And ultimately this became the reason why he allowed his sons to take Benjamin along with them to Egypt. With Jacob it was not a case of being willing to have his sons prove to this “man” in Egypt (who he did not know was Joseph) that they were true men and not spies and to redeem Simeon. It was a matter of sending the sons with Benjamin, or starve to death, and so lose all his children and his own life. We read at the very outset ofGenesis 43, “And the famine was sore in the land.” That land was the land of Canaan where Jacob and his sons dwelt. And Judah in Genesis 43:10 states, “For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.” And Jacob answers, “If it must be so now, do this. . . .” Although the “it must be” is in italics, because it does not appear in the Hebrew text, the word “lingered” speaks of a delay, which when coupled with the fact of a sore famine in the land shows that the sons felt deeply the need of going, and would have gone ,because of the, great need had their father only allowed them to take Benjamin along. The bread question did finally cause Jacob to yield.
Once again Jacob’s flesh rules him, so that he cries out, (after resorting to his old tricks by instructing his sons to take a present of balm, honey, spices, myrrh, nuts, and almonds to gain the favor of this “man” in Egypt), “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” And when the nine sons had come home without Simeon he had said in regard to taking Benjamin along the next time, “If mischief befall him by the way in which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”
It is true that in the sentence in which he said, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved,” he first expressed his prayer, “And God Almighty give you mercy before the man that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin.” For he was a believer, and he did have faith in God as the Almighty. Yet there is a point here we must not overlook.
Our Reformed fathers expressed it so correctly when in the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day XXIV they answer the question, “But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?” in this manner: “Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.” And in Lord’s Day XLIV, and in answer to the question, “But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep His commandments?” our fathers stated, “No; but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.” And all this is but an explanation of and re-emphasis upon what God said Himself through Paul inRomans 7:18-21, “For I know that in me [that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. . . . I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”
In that light we can understand Jacob, the believer’s, cry of, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” How radically it differs from Job’s, “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” How different it is from the psalmist’s confident speech in Psalm 103:17, “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those that fear Him.” Jacob had called God “God Almighty,” but no sooner had he called Him that than his faith gave way to his flesh and he spoke words of fatalism. He should have spoken thus, “And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother and Benjamin; and if not, so that I am bereaved of my children, it is not because this everlasting mercy of God has been interrupted and is no longer upon me.” He should have told his sons that he would grieve if he is bereaved of his children, but he would still bless God and trust His promises.
Now that Jacob watched his sons with Benjamin until they were out of sight, that his thoughts were with them every day until they returned, and that he prayed daily for their safe return with Simeon was not at all out of place or a lack of faith. And, if we may anticipate a moment, the truth set forth in this whole account, including the safe return of all the sons and with the truth concerning Joseph, so beautifully and powerfully underscores what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Jacob prayed for the safe return of his eleven sons, and he did not ask or think of asking for the return of Joseph. But God restored to him this son whom he thought to be dead. How could he ask or think of asking that he might yet see Joseph on this earth? He got much more than he asked for, or thought of asking for. All these things were not against him but working for him. God Almighty not only gave his sons mercy before Joseph; but, what is more, God’s own mercy was on Jacob and his sons. Although the cross of Christ was far yet in the future as far as the history of this world is concerned, He is the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” in God’s counsel. And on that basis Jacob and his sons are dealt with in tender mercy by God.
Now apart from the fact that Jacob’s faith wavered so that he spoke words of fatalism, there is another element so sadly lacking here. Jacob not only set a bad example before his sons. He also failed in his duty as a covenant father. These sons were by no means eager to go back to Egypt and face more rough speech and perhaps imprisonment. They feared that the money in their sacks was purposely put there so that “he may seek occasion against us, and fall on us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses” (Genesis 43:18). It was no pleasure trip on which they were going. They were like a man going to the dentist to have a tooth drilled or pulled: a “necessary evil” because they needed food, and an ordeal that they loathed. Then, too, in the back of their minds was the fact that they believed that God had given them all this distress because of what they did to Joseph. Fear was in their hearts. The future looked bleak. And they had an awesome responsibility over against Benjamin and his safe return to his father.
In light of all this, Jacob should have strengthened their faith with the Word of God and pointed them more directly to this God Almighty and HIS mercy. What is the mercy of man toward us, if God is not merciful? What a way for these sons to leave their grieving father, namely, hearing him say “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” Those were the last words they heard from him before they left.
Surely here he was not manifesting himself as Israel, the Prince of God. And it is only because that mercy of God is from everlasting to everlasting upon those whom He chose in Christ that after such outbursts of fatalism such as, “All these things are against me” and “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved,” that Jacob still receives more than he could ask or think. Because our God is unchangeable and His Son is ever faithful, all our unfaithfulness and failure to live by faith cannot bring His mercy to an end. As Jeremiah stated it so beautifully in Lamentations 3:22, 23, “It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”
Well may we with the psalmist sing:
“Thy mercy and Thy truth, O Lord,
Transcend the Lofty sky;
Thy judgments are a mighty deep,
And as the mountains high.”