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Sermon Notes - 10.08.17 Home » Member Resources » Sermon Archives » 10.08.17

Dream Catcher: "The Baby of the Family"
Sermon By: Dr. Randy Hyde
Key Verses: Genesis 43:1-34 Listen Onlinesermon notes

~ “Then he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin” ~

The sons of Jacob, grain in hand, have returned from Egypt to the land of their father. That part of the world has been hit with a severe famine, and because of the judicious foresight of the Egyptians – namely, Joseph the governor Egypt – people from all over have come to purchase grain so they might not starve. The family of Jacob is no different.

Unbeknownst to them, Jacob’s sons have met with their brother Joseph, the one they had, years earlier, sold into slavery. No doubt they can tell the governor is Hebrew and not Egyptian (you and I probably would not have been able to tell the difference), but they don’t recognize him as their long-lost sibling. He has changed over the years, having become older and taking on the accouterments of the Egyptian lifestyle, and speaks to them in the Egyptian language through an interpreter. He knows who they are immediately, giving him the distinct advantage. And, as we will see, he definitely seizes that advantage. What they do know is that strange things have been happening on their trip to Egypt, things that would be difficult, upon their return, to explain to their father Jacob. That is what sets up the drama in this part of the story.

The Egyptian governor had seemed to be inordinately interested in their family situation, but not before almost immediately charging them with being spies. “You have come to see the nakedness of the land!” he says to them accusingly. “No, no,” they assure him, “we have just come to buy food, sent by our father, because the land is so bare.” Quickly they offer up the information that one brother remains back home with their father, while another has been lost and is “no more.” The ten of them have come to procure food because of the famine. Of course, what they don’t know is that they are providing information to the very one who already knows who they are and is completely aware of the situation.

Joseph decides not to let them off easily, whatever his motivation might have been. Revenge, perhaps? Or could it be his own sense of justice, his desire to be reunited with his loved ones, maybe? Regardless, it seems that he chooses to do so by making it as uncomfortable for his brothers as possible.

I’m not sure if this story is apocryphal or it actually happened, but I will pass it on regardless. It is said that during the Civil War a young northern soldier was caught committing a crime and was sentenced to death by hanging. The young man’s mother managed to get an audience with President Lincoln, and begged for mercy. She was a widow, she explained, and her son was her only child. If he were to be hanged, she would be left all alone in the world.

Mr. Lincoln did indeed have pity on her and assured her that her son’s life would be spared. As he escorted her from his office in the White House, he turned to her and said, “Nevertheless, madam, I do wish we could hang him just a little bit!”

Joseph’s plan is to be reunited with his family. His motivation for doing so is to bring honor to the God who has seen him through some perilous times. But in the meantime he decides to hang his brothers just a little bit! He certainly doesn’t make it easy for them. Keeping Simeon as collateral, he tells the remaining nine to go back home with their needed grain, then return to Egypt. That will be proof enough that they are not spies. And when they come back to retrieve Simeon, they are to bring Jacob’s youngest son with them. That is not negotiable, he informs them. They are not to return without the baby of the family.

Along the way, they discover money in their sacks, funds they had taken to Egypt to pay for the grain. What is it doing in their grain bags? Now, the governor will think they are not only spies but thieves as well!

When they arrive back home, the sons of Jacob soon learn that their father will not hear of Joseph’s demand, probably for more than one reason. He’s already lost one son, Joseph, and it’s quite possible he will never see Simeon again as he languishes in an Egyptian jail. Jacob will not risk Benjamin’s life, not for all the grain in Egypt. No, no, no, no… no!

He takes all this very personally without taking any of the blame upon himself. “I am the one you have bereaved of children,” he says to his sons. Joseph isn’t the only one who speaks accusingly, is he? “Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me! To me!”

There is a sense in which Jacob has always come across as self-centered. Think about it: He stole his brother’s birthright so he might have it for himself, with the aid of his equally conniving mother. He tricked his father-in-law Laban and fled back home to the land of his fathers. And even when he found himself in the dead of night wrestling with the messenger of God on the banks of the river Jabbok, he refused to let go until he was blessed. Jacob was always looking for an edge, a way of seizing the advantage in any given situation. Now, in his old age, when life turns on him in the midst of this great famine, he blames his sons for his losses. The edge is gone and the only thing remaining is self-pity. “All this has happened to me!”

Hunger, however, can be a great motivator. Once again, they have run out of grain, which is where we have picked up the story this morning. “Go again,” Jacob says to his sons, pushing them toward Egypt, “buy us some more food.” He seems to say it in such a way that he fully expects his sons to obey his command… without question or argument. Not this time. This time, the sons of Jacob tell their father no.

So far in this narrative, Reuben has been the strong and compassionate leader of the brothers. He is the one who wouldn’t let them kill Joseph, and suggested they put him in the pit until they could figure out what to do with him. It was Reuben who bore the sad news to Jacob that his favored son Joseph was now “lost and is no more.” It was Reuben who told his father that if they went back to Egypt with Benjamin, and did not bring him back upon their return, Jacob had his permission to kill his two sons as recompense. In this ongoing saga, generally when the brothers required a courageous spokesman, it was Reuben who stepped up to the plate and offered sibling leadership.

Interestingly, not this time. This time, it is Judah who speaks up.

He reminds his father of what the Egyptian governor had said to them. “The man solemnly warned us: ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother (speaking of Benjamin, the baby of the family) is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us,” Judah says to his father Jacob, “we will go down and buy you food.”

Did you notice that? It’s a fairly subtle turn of words, but it carries a lot of meaning. “If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food.” Judah is letting his father know that they, he and his brothers, are not willing to shoulder all the blame for their unfortunate situation. Jacob has to admit to his part in it too. He’s the one who favored Joseph and contributed to their resentment, a resentment that forced them to do what they had done so many years before. He’s the one who, after Joseph was lost – and was “no more” – then placed his favor upon Benjamin because he was the only remaining son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. He, Jacob, is the one who, after they had returned from Egypt, was willing for Simeon to cool his heels in the Egyptian jail because he wouldn’t allow Benjamin to go with his brothers to retrieve him.

The blame game is going to stop and it’s going to stop right here and right now. “If you will not send him,” Judah says to his father Jacob, “we will not go down.”

One of the all-time most popular television shows is Bonanza. Re-runs of this western can be viewed several times a day on multiple channels, and I admit I have seen just about all of them. I recall one day visiting a church member at the Briarwood Nursing Home. As I walked down the hall toward her room, I heard the unmistakable sound of the Bonanza theme song… “Dum diddy um diddy um diddy um diddy um dum, dum diddy um…” Sound familiar? Of course it does.

The series starred Lorne Greene as the father Ben, and Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon as his three sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. Pernell Roberts, a classically-trained actor who played the oldest son Adam, only stayed with the show six years despite its fourteen-year run. It is said that he left the show because he thought the storyline was ridiculous, that the show depicted an older man with three grown sons whom he still treated as if they were children who constantly had to defer to the wishes of their father despite the fact that they were adults.

I wonder if that might not have been something of the dynamic in the Jacob household, and Judah, acting like Pernell Roberts, finally decided they had had enough. “If you will not send him (referring to Benjamin, the baby of the family), we will not go down. Enough is enough!”

Resentment permeates the household of Jacob. There is no way to get around that. Ben – er, I mean Jacob – still isn’t willing to let go of his resentment toward his sons, nor they from him. He’s still taking this whole thing personally, as if this misfortune is his and his alone. “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother? Why did you so readily offer such information?” Loose lips sink ships!

“The man (they still don’t know Joseph’s identity, remember) questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred… ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ We had to answer his questions, don’t you see?”

If he’s going to defy the family patriarch, Judah needs to accept responsibility for his actions. Actually, when you think about it, showing more maturity than his father Jacob, Judah says, “Tell you what: send the boy (Benjamin, the baby of the family) with me (to Egypt)…” Judah doesn’t say us, he says me… “I myself will be surety for him; you can hold me accountable for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you alive and well, then let me bear the blame forever.”

But he doesn’t stop there, does he? He gets in a bit of a dig toward his father, again revealing the resentment that has existed in this rather dysfunctional household for a lot of years. “If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice. If you had acted sensibly, it would all be over by now. As it is, it’s time to put this show on the road!”

Jacob finally gives in. But to show that he’s still the boss of this outfit, like Ben Cartwright he starts barking orders, telling his sons what to pack and how to pack it, as well as how much money to take with them. And then, possibly to show that he is willing to give up on at least some of the resentment he has shown them, he offers them a blessing: “May God Almighty (the Hebrew is what has become to us the familiar El Shaddai) grant you mercy before the man…”

We have the advantage of knowing who all the players are, and of the intrigue that serves as the backdrop to this drama. As observers, we know what Jacob and his sons do not know. But in a real sense, that adds to the pathos of this situation. Jacob is not aware of the outcome, and can only place the final result of all this into the hands of El Shaddai, God Almighty, the very One with whom he had wrestled in the middle of the night so many years before. The remainder of his blessing is not only that God will grant mercy to his sons, but goes like this: “so that he (the Lord) may send back your other brother (referring to Simeon) and Benjamin (the baby of the family).” Jacob seems to be telling God what to do as well!

And then, as Judah did with his father, Jacob gets in one final dig at his sons. He says, “As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” What will be will be. “If I lose my sons, let it be God’s will.” It’s not very good theology, but it is a fairly effective guilt trip. A little guilt, you see, can go a long way, and it appears that Jacob is not hesitant to heap more than a little guilt on his sons as they depart for their second trip to Egypt.

It must have been a long and difficult journey to Egypt, for they do not know what the outcome will be once they arrive. If there is a place in this story that mirrors where we are in life, it is here. We do not know where our journey of life and faith will take us. Again, as we read this story of Jacob and his family, we are indeed given the advantage of knowing what they have in mind, what are God plans for them, and how their lives will conclude. And through the interpreted narrative of those who recorded this story, we are able to see God’s intent in it all. As the sons of Jacob – not to mention Jacob himself – were willing to place their destiny in the hands of El Shaddai, so must we.

Since God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick, let us learn from that old rascal Jacob. He did, whether from desperation or true faith – or a mixture of both – finally put this whole enterprise into the hands of God. Since we do not know the outcome of our story, don’t you think it would be good for us to do the same?

Lord, as you could see the outcome of your blessing toward Jacob and his family, we ask you to guide us so that what is finally to come to bear for us will reflect your divine and eternal will. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.

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