I must confess that the last several chapters- this story of Joseph playing cat and mouse with his siblings is rather torturous. Is this Joseph playing a somewhat mean-spirited game with his brothers? Why does Joseph draw this out so long? Especially given the age of his father, who he hasn’t seen for so long?
He puts on a great show for them, heaping food up in front of them, and making a display out of Benjamin’s plate. And then he loads them up with food and sends them back home, AGAIN.
But this time, instead of having the steward simply putting their silver back in their sacks again, ostensibly giving them the food for free- this time, he plants a piece of very damning piece of contraband- Joseph’s prized silver chalice. Why?
The boys are on their journey back home to their father, bags loaded with the grain they’d come for. They are less than a day’s journey out when their host’s steward catches up with them, all a fury and full of accusations about a missing chalice. The men, stunned, are appalled at the accusations, reminding the steward that at great personal risk, they returned with twice the silver they needed specifically to keep the air clear between them.
So without resisting they volunteer themselves to grave punishment should they be guilty, and, it says, “quickly lowered” their sacks to be inspected. I’m sure it was amazing to them that once again, their silver is sitting on TOP of the grain they just purchased. More amazing to find the silver chalice in Benjamin’s sacks. Imagine the looks on their faces? Benjamin was probably slack-jawed and pale as the sand he stood on, while the others were probably mystified and confused.
All of this drama? Why?
Honestly, I think that Joseph wasn’t terribly interested in his older brothers. I think he was trying to kidnap Benjamin. He’d been holding Simeon captive until the could verify their story by bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin, with them. Now that he’d seen Benjamin, he’s released Simeon. But he’s set Benjamin up to be brought back as a slave.
When the steward caught up with them, his terms were simple; the one caught with the chalice returns as a slave, and the rest are free to go. The brother’s emphatic insistence on their innocence was bolstered by them upping the ante. They said they would submit to death the guilty brother and submit the remaining brothers to a lifetime of servitude. But the steward declined. And Joseph did too- until Judah makes his impassioned speech.
Following this speech by Judah, Joseph cracks, and finally reveals himself.
—BACK TO CHAPTER 44—
This particular story leaves me with more questions than it does answers, really. Why does Joseph insist on drawing this game out? What is his goal in hiding the silver back in their bags, rather than simply giving it to them outright? Why set up Benjamin as a thief? And then, why demand only the life of Benjamin as a slave rather than accepting his death, and then the lives of the remaining brothers?
Is God behind the family reunion? Is God the reason that Judah’s impassioned speech breaks the will of Joseph to break up the family by keeping Benjamin?
Or was there some lesson to be learned that I have missed? Why is this story even in the biblical account anyways? I mean, there is no outright arm-of-God moment! No voice in the pillar of smoke, no dreams, no big miracles. Where does this story fit into the narrative of God’s redemption?
Maybes. Lots of maybes. Maybe the full family reunion was part of the plan all along. Maybe Joseph was just playing cat and mouse, drawing out the anxiety in an ancient case of Candid Camera. Or maybe Joseph was only ever interested in reuniting with Benjamin. Bringing him back as a “servant” and putting him in a position of comfort near him. Maybe he’d just written off his family, his brothers, and accepted his new life in Egypt.
I wonder how much of the Bible is actually like this?
When I started reading Genesis, it was with the intention and purpose of looking for God and flashes of His character. And it has been thoroughly rewarding! Which is what makes this small section of Genesis troubling. But plays into Gods hands. I read a proverb with my oldest son today that fits rather providentially into today’s passage: “Many are the plans of a man’s heart; But it is God’s purpose that prevails.”
Maybe this is the true lesson- that God, named or unnamed, visible or invisible, invited or not, always, always, ALWAYS, gets the very last word.