1Now the famine was severe in the land. 2So when Israelâ€™s children had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father told them, â€œGo back again! Buy a little food for us!â€ 3But Judah said, â€œThe main firmly warned us, â€˜You shall not see my face unless you bring your brother with you.â€™â€ â€” Genesis 43:1-3
4Parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with the Lord’s instruction and admonition. — Ephesians 6:4
I heard someone say recently that one can be wrong for twenty years and call it experience. I don’t remember who said it, but it caught my attention.
It’s traditional, in reading the story of Joseph, to criticize the brothers. They don’t do well, being jealous of their younger brother, plotting to kill him, and finally selling him into slavery. We are comfortable fitting them for the role of â€œbad guysâ€ for the story.
Occasionally someone will point out that Joseph falls quite short of perfection as well. He provokes his brothers to jealousy by telling them about his dreams, dreams he must know will be interpreted to mean that he believes he will be superior to all of them. He seems oblivious to the problems this may cause.
A little less frequently we criticize Jacob. I’ve heard him criticized, for example, for not properly disciplining his older sons. Obviously, sons who would plot the death of their brother were a bit out of control, right?
But if you think about it, Jacob’s most critical sin is his open favoritism. We see glimpses of this with the special coat given to Joseph, and the fact that all the other brothers are sent out to tend the flocks while Jacob stays at home. But I think Jacob shows his favoritism, and his general lack of fatherly concern in the first few verses of chapter 43.
He’s expressing concern for Benjamin. He doesn’t want Benjamin to be killed. But he is willing to risk his ten sons by sending them back without Benjamin, and he’s willing to sentence Simeon to time in prison by delaying or not sending them back at all.
Jacob doesn’t seem like a very good father, does he?
Now some of you may not be used to having a Bible hero criticized in this fashion. If you have that reaction to my comments, please go read your Bible more closely. It would be hard for me to criticize Bible heroes more vigorously than the Bible itself does. The Bible relates all their flaws, often without comment, leaving us to recognize the obvious.
The interesting thing in this story is that you will not find Jacob apologizing or correcting his behavior. He is just as provocative as ever throughout the story, with concern only for the two sons of Rachel, his favored wife. Joseph forgives his brothers and is reconciled. The brothers patch things up on their end, but Jacob remains unmoved, or at least we’re not told anything about it.
After Jacob dies, the brothers feel that they must make up a story about Jacob telling them to beg for their lives. You have to wonder why Jacob didn’t take care of this before he died!
As older folks it’s very easy for us to see the faults of the young. They make the same mistakes we did all over again. You know, there’s nothing more annoying than watching someone else make a mistake that used to be your mistake. We can be very unforgiving of those faults we have overcome! It’s very easy to consider the length of time we’ve been around as a justification for all our prejudices.
It’s easy for the young to be impetuous and dash in where angels fear to tread. They throw off our eternal verities and make up new things. They get so many things wrong!
But are we expecting the young people to reform, by which we often mean they must become more like us, while we refuse to see our own faults and failings over the years and correct them?
Just consider what might have happened if, somewhere along the line, Jacob had said, â€œChildren, I’m sorry for my favoritism. I recognize that all of you are called to a place in building God’s people. Let’s be reconciled.â€