And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; . . .
Take also you brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. â€•
In moody silence the ten sons of Jacob returned to their homes in Canaan. Their hearts were heavy and hurting within them. They had hesitated to make a trip to Egypt, and the outcome, had proved even worse than they had anticipated. No sooner had they entered Egypt than they had been accosted by the ruler of the land and accused of being spies. The man had spoken to them very harshly and imprisoned them all in the king’s dungeon. After three days they had been released, except Simeon who was bound before their eyes and kept in custody. They were sent away and told not to return again without Benjamin their youngest brother; it was a condition with which they could hardly expect their father would allow them to comply. With heavy hearts they made their journey in silence. Finally when they were nearly home, one of them opened a sack of grain and found in the mouth of it the money which the Egyptians were supposed to have taken as the price for the grain. To them it seemed to forebode nothing more than another occasion for trouble.
This all the brothers could not understand. There seemed to have settled over their lives a cloud of mystery which their minds were not able to penetrate. Why, when everyone else was received so congenially in Egypt, were they singled out for such harsh treatment? Why, when there was not a shred of real evidence against them, were they repeatedly accused of being spies? Why had the bungling Egyptians failed to keep the money which they had given them, leaving room for them to be accused of stealing? From a human point of view there was no reason for it all. Again and again they searched their hearts, and always they ended up with only one possible explanation, the hand of the Lord was upon them. They had hated their younger brother Joseph because he was more righteous than they, and had sold him for a slave to the Ishmaelites. Thereby they had sinned against their father, the covenant of God, and God Himself. For many years they had kept it hidden, not telling their father, hardly mentioning it among themselves, and even trying to ignore it in their own minds. But now the time of recompense had come. With smarting conscience they recognized this was the hand of the Lord.
Jacob could see it on the faces of his sons the moment that they alighted from their asses. The eagerness and joviality which characterizes the conclusion of a successful journey was not there. That they had obtained the food for which they went was evident, for the asses were heavily laden. But scanning the group Jacob saw one of them was missing, Simeon. With darkened faces and faltering lips the nine approached him and spoke. “The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies: we be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan. And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone: and bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.” Each word cut deeply into the soul of the aged man. There seemed to be no end to sorrow brought upon him by his children. First there had been the shame that they had brought upon him by their wicked and riotous living. Then there had been their jealousy and hatred that they had maintained toward their younger brother, Joseph, because he had not taken part in their evil but had lived more righteously than they. Then there had been the disappearance of Joseph, claimed to be an accident, but about which they still maintained a guilty silence. Now they returned from Egypt without Simeon, and they wanted to take Benjamin away also. Crushed by the troubles of his divided house, the fruits of his own bigamous life, Jacob cried out in rebellion, “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.”
What were the men to say in reply to their father? His accusation was even more true than he himself realized. True, they had not been the direct cause of Simeon’s imprisonment, and it was not at all said that Benjamin would not return again from Egypt. But they had been the cause of Joseph’s departure. His cries for mercy still rung in their ears, but they had not heeded them. In their carnal hatred they had sold him for silver. Was not Simeon’s imprisonment a punishment of God upon them for their sin? And could they be sure that God would not see well to take also Benjamin away? Guilt seared their hearts as they looked with downcast faces to the ground. It was Reuben who broke the confused silence by blurting forth, “Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.” But Jacob would have none of such folly. Was he a man whose pains could be satiated with blood? Revenge is a poor comforter, especially for a child of God. To slay his own grandchildren would only bereave him the more. With firm resolve he answered back, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Surely faith and the comforts of grace had removed themselves far from the family of Jacob. For years they had seemed to be able to sin with impunity, not experiencing any evil effects. But at last the time had come when God would purge them from their sins. It was that purging fire of God that was touching the quick of their hearts.
When the men turned to unload their beasts of burden, yet another reminder of their dire state came to their attention. Not just one man’s money was in his sack, but each one found his own in turn. Their guilty consciences would not allow them to see it as a gesture of favor. It appeared to be some evil plot which was being formed to torment and to torture them.
A deathly quiet fell over the household of Jacob. Each man went about his own particular duties with hardly a word. There was nothing to say. Each man suffered his own guilty thoughts alone. Meticulously they measured out the grain from Egypt, observing the strictest rationing. No one wanted more than was his due for all dreaded alike the day when it would be gone. Searching glances were thrown toward the sky, longing for the return of rain; but the skies remained like brass, reflecting only the righteousness of God, convicting each man of his sin. Finally the day came when their most frugal efforts proved unsuccessful; the grain from Egypt was gone. Anxiously they compassed the land searching for some other form of food. A few nuts, a little honey, some resin and spices, luxuries in themselves, but hardly sufficient to maintain life. Empty stomachs joined with their aching hearts to remind them of their guilt. Still they dared not make the feared suggestion. Each suffered by himself in silence.
Finally it was Jacob who could endure the gaunt looks of pain no longer, “Go again,”‘ he remonstrated. “Buy us a little food.” It was a foolish demand, for he meant that they should go without Benjamin. Jacob realized himself that it was impossible, but in desperation he suggested it anyway. This time it was Judah who stepped to the fore to speak for the brothers. “The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food: but if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face; except your brother be with you.” It was sad, the perplexity into which the old man was thrown. On the one hand was the cruel power of the famine. On the other hand was the fearful uncertainty that seemed to overshadow the lives of his children, the strange vicissitudes of a ruler in Egypt, the guilty silence of his own sons that made it so difficult for him to trust them. Torn between the two, Jacob knew not which way to turn. And what made it even more sad, he neglected the one great comfort which he had, the promises of his God. Had not God assured him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.” Surely God would keep this promise. Jacob’s seed had to continue. But in his perplexity, Jacob’s faith grew dim; it ceased to give him light. Driven by his grief, Jacob’s flesh lashed back in rebellion, “Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?” The answer was so very typical of a person who has lost his mooring in faith, without comfort and without reason. His sons were quite right when they told him, “The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?”
Then more kindly and sensibly Judah began to speak. “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him; if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever; for except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.” Was there something in Judah’s tone of voice that spoke of sincerity? Had Judah, perhaps, showed himself more trustworthy than the rest since his sad experience with Tamar? Had he, perhaps, in former years always been more kindly disposed toward Joseph than the others? Something there was about this speech of Judah’s that led Jacob to reconsider his rash affirmation and relent. Placing his trust in Judah’s promise he answered, “If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds: and take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man.” Broken of his rebellion Jacob began once again to give his sons wise leadership and directions. But more valuable than all was the prayer with which he concluded. “And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” Once again Jacob was brought to a position of faith. There was only one who could control the hearts and ways of men. To Him Jacob had to commit his way. With a prayer of faith he gave his children into the hand of the Lord.
Thus it was that once again ten of the sons of Jacob came into the land of Egypt, this time with Benjamin among them, so that in the presence of Joseph they might be led into a full and complete repentance for their sins.