Sunday, March 15, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 43 & 44

Chapter 43
Summary:The famine kept on and the grain that Israel's/Jacob's family had gotten from Egypt was nearly gone. Israel told his sons to return to Egypt to buy more grain.

Judah reminded his father that they couldn't return to Egypt without Benjamin, to which Israel replied by asking why they ever even mentioned having another brother. Judah tells him that they had no choice and that the man specifically asked about their family*, and that they couldn't have guessed that the man would ask them to send Benjamin.

Israel tells his sons that if they have to bring Benjamin, then they should at least present the man with the finest gifts they could afford, and bring twice the amount of money to pay the man back for the last bags of grain. The brothers then headed off to Egypt with Benjamin, the gifts, and with double the amount of money.

When they appeared before Joseph with Benjamin, Joseph told the manager of his household to take the brothers to his palace and prepare a big feast. When the brothers saw where they were being taken, they became very frightened that they would be taken as slaves.

As they arrived at the entrance to the palace, they explained to the household manager about finding the money at the tops of their sacks from the last time they bought grain, and offered to repay Joseph. The household manager told them not to worry, adding that their god must have put it there, as they had collected the brothers money all right.

Then he released Simeon and brought him out to his brothers. Then the brothers were given water to soak their feet and their donkeys were fed. The brothers then got their presents ready for Joseph's arrival, and when Joseph arrived at noon the brothers gave him the presents while bowing low before him.

Joseph then asked the brothers about their father, whether he was still alive and in good health, to which the brothers replied that he was alive and well. Looking at his brother Benjamin, Joseph then asked the brothers if this was indeed Benjamin, to which his brothers confirmed that he was. Joseph, overcome with love for his brother made a hasty exit and wept in his bedroom chamber. He then washed his face and came out with his emotions under control.

As they began their meal, Joseph ate by himself while his brothers were served at a separate table. The Egyptians sat at yet another table, as they despise Hebrews and never eat with them. Joseph had told each brother where to sit and had arranged them sitting from oldest to youngest much to the amazement of the brothers. He gave the largest servings to Benjamin - five times as much as the others - and kept the wine flowing freely during the meal.
Notes:1.) We have to assume that either Judah is lying or that the author was asleep at the wheel. Judah's explanation to his father contradicts the way the story occurs in Chapter 42.
Thoughts:Faced with starvation (rather than concern for getting their brother Simeon out of an Egyptian prison) Israel finally allows his sons to take Benjamin to Egypt with them while they attempt to buy more food. Israel also decides that a little bribery would probably help their cause as well, and sends them along with a bunch of gifts, as well as double the money they would need, in order to pay back Joseph for the money they found at the top of their grain sacks the last time.

When they appear before Joseph, Joe gets all teary eyed at the sight of his full blooded younger brother (Benjamin and Joseph share the same mother, and are the only sons Israel had with Rachel) and has to excuse himself to have a good cry in his bedroom. While the brothers were initially on edge as they arrived at the palace, thinking that they were about to begin lives in slavery, Joseph tells them that they are here for a feast.

The chapter takes a slight dig at vilifying the Egyptians some more by mentioning their antisemitic views of not sitting down to eat with Hebrew people. This mention here seems out of place and somewhat derails the story, but should be expected as the bible misses little opportunity to vilify the Egyptians.

As they are served their meals, Joseph shows obvious favoritism towards Benjamin giving him five times(!) as much food as the rest, which seems a bit excessive unless he gave the rest of his brothers Weight Watchers sized portions.
Chapter 44
Summary:When Joseph's brothers were done with their meals and ready to leave, Joseph ordered his servants to fill each of the brothers' grain sacks with as much grain as they could carry, and to once again put the money they had paid at the top of their sacks. In addition, he had his servants place Joseph's own silver cup at the top of Benjamin's sack.

The brothers were up at dawn the next day and went on their way with their loaded up donkeys. However, when they were barely out of the city, Joseph told his head servant to follow after them and confront them about why they had "stolen" Joseph's silver drinking cup when Joseph had been so kind to them.

When the servant caught up to the brothers and told them what Joseph had instructed him to, the brothers replied in disbelief, stating that if the silver cup was found on any of them, let that brother be killed and the rest would serve in slavery forever. The servant replied instead that if one of them was caught with the cup, then that brother would serve as a slave and the others could go free. The servant searched each brother's sack, going from oldest to youngest, finally finding the cup in Benjamin's sack.

They ripped their clothing in despair, loaded the donkeys again and returned to the city to plead with Joseph. Joseph was still home when Judah and his brothers arrived, and they fell to the ground before him.

Joseph asked them what was the meaning of stealing his silver drinking cup, to which Judah pleaded their innocence and explained that they had all returned to serve as Joseph's slaves. Joseph repeated that only the man who stole the cup would serve as a slave, and that the rest of the brothers could return home to their father.

Judah then recaps the events of the last two chapters to Joseph, and further explains that Benjamin is special to their father as the last remaining son from his mother, and that their father would die from sorrow if anything happened to Benjamin. Judah continues to explain that
his father had entrusted him personally with Benjamin's safety and offers himself to serve as a slave in place of Benjamin.
Thoughts:Joseph once again sets his brothers up by putting their money back into the top of their grain sacks, but this time ups the ante by stashing his silver cup in Benjamin's sack to frame him as a thief. He sends his servants to go catch the brothers, and more specifically to "catch the thief" amongst them.

Interestingly, the servant is able to remember the ages of all eleven brothers as it's mentioned that he checks the bags of each of them from oldest to youngest. It begs the question as to how much the servant(s) were told about Joseph's plans, as the bible fails to mention specifically how much or how little the servants knew about Joseph's schemes towards his brothers. It's just odd that the servant would be able to memorize the exact sequence of the brothers' ages after seeing them only twice, once the entire group the night prior, and ten of the brothers, presumably months prior, where their ages weren't explicitly mentioned or given in the chapter.

Another interesting thing to note is how Judah pretty much takes over as the spokesman of the brothers, where prior the brothers' words were generalized as coming from all of them. After Benjamin is taken back as a slave to Joseph's palace, Judah bears the responsibility (after recapping the last two chapters at length) and offers to serve in slavery in his brother's place.

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