Friday, March 2, 2012

What is Your Benjamin? (Genesis 43)

    1.  Introduction:
When we left Jacob at the end of Genesis 42, he is faced with a choice. Initially he is fighting God’s eternal purpose, which is to re-unite Joseph with his family and to get the children of Israel into the land of Egypt. His heels dragging, his jaw set, Jacob refuses to budge in his decision that Benjamin must not leave Canaan. What blessing the patriarch is in danger of missing because of his stubbornness!

God is dealing with Jacob by turning up the volume on stress. Jacob is underneath his circumstance, fighting a losing battle against God’s design. They are now out of grain. God is trying to get Jacob to respond. The response He desires is for Jacob to let go of his youngest son.

2. We See The Stubbornness of Jacob (vv.1-10):
2.1.As Genesis 43 opens, Jacob and family have consumed most of their grain, and the famine remains server in the land. Jacob orders his sons to go back to Egypt. He knows the requirements Joseph has laid out, that there can be no trade unless Benjamin accompanies his brothers to Egypt. But he chooses to act as if the rules don’t exist. 

     At this moment, he does not plan to obey. Jacob refuses to surrender. He is tough and bullheaded. He has no intension of acquiescing to the commands of a foreign official in a faraway land. He simply tells his sons to get more food. One of the most difficult conclusions we will ever come to is to realize that there is no meaningful life in Christ until we are willing to do things God’s way.

2.2.Judah, Jacob’s fourth-born son, speaks to his father (vv.3-5). There is really no alternative to sending Benjamin. To do anything else means the mission will fail. Here, Judah becomes the great intercessor. He tells Jacob, “Dad, there’s no choice. If Benjamin goes, we go. If Benjamin stays, we stay and we die! Without him, we’ll get no food, and the 500 mile round trip will have been for nothing.”

Jacob lashes out in anger, frustration, and fear (v.6). He blames his sons that all of this has happened. A family feud has erupted. Eight other voices join their brother’s in protesting their father’s comments (v.7). Judah steps in once more to break up the fray (v.8). Then he makes a most amazing, unselfish promise (v.9).

  3. We See The Submission of Jacob (vv.11-14):
    3.1.As Genesis 43 continues, nothing is as Jacob wishes it to be either. God is forcing his hand. The last  thing Jacob wants to do is to send Benjamin to Egypt with his brothers, but he has no choice. He turns to his sons and says with resignation – “If it must be…” (v.11). 

     What glorious words of surrender! The human spirit thirsts for independence. It desires to play the game its way – to protect its ego, to grant wishes to others rather than to receive what is graciously given. Surrender is a learned response. And Jacob is learning.

When he makes the decision to let go of Benjamin and cooperate with God’s program, we reach a pivotal point in our saga. Now the mind-set of the leader of Israel is one of submission, not resistance; obedience, not rebellion. Characteristically, Jacob still hasn’t learned to cooperate without sending a gift. Jacob saves the worst till last – take Benjamin, he tells his sons. Jacob will face the trauma of being alone for one of the few times in his life.

     3.2.At last Jacob reaches the point of surrender. He will give up his Benjamin to whatever the Lord has in mind (v.14). When Jacob speaks of “God Almighty,” he uses the Hebrew term El Shaddai, referring to God as the Keeper of the Covenant, the breasted One, the sustaining One, the all-powerful One. Into God’s hands Jacob releases his sons. 

     Notice the words of surrender. “As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” Whatever God! We are witnessing surrender. It’s time to raise the white flag and allow El Shaddai to handle the situation according to His will. A man at the side of the road tinkered with his Model-T Ford, trying to get it started – without success. A chauffeur-driven car stopped, and an expensively dressed man got out. After watching the futile efforts of the man to start his car, the stranger suggested a minor adjustment that he should make in the engine. 

     The owner was skeptical but was willing to try anything. He made the adjustment, and when he cracked the car, the motor began to run like new. Amazed, the man asked the stranger how he knew what to do. The answer was, “I’m Henry Ford. I made the car, so I know all about how it works.” God made us and He knows us. We only work best as we surrender to Him. Jacob discovered that – and may we discover the same thing.

     4.    We See A Surprise in Egypt (vv.15-34):
    4.1.In verse 15, notice the word “hurried.” Why do they rush? It is because time is of the essence. Thanks to Jacob’s delays, if their families are going to survive the famine, the brothers must make the round trip to Egypt and back in record time. The brothers want to get to the food distribution center when it opens. They stand before Joseph, and he recognizes Benjamin. He has his steward invite them home for lunch. They are afraid. 

     Picture yourself in the customs line at a Middle Eastern airport. You move slowly forward, watching the officers inspect the bags of others. Before you reach the head of the line, another man in an official-looking uniform grasps your carry-on bag and says, “Come with me.” What would you do? Panic would hit. You’d be terribly alarmed. You would ask, “What have I done? What’s going on here?” 

    That’s the reaction of Joseph’s brothers. They haven’t committed any crimes, but there is the matter of the returned silver to consider. They explain their purpose for coming and inform the steward of the silver in their bags (vv.19-22). The steward tells them not to be concerned about the replaced silver. He withdraws from the room and returns with Simeon.
   4.2.When Joseph walks in the door, it marks the first time in over 22 years that all 12 brothers are together within the confines of a single room. The first chance they get, the brothers present their gifts to him and then bow down before him – there’s the dream again! Joseph asks the men how they are and then poses this question – “How is your aged father….?” (v.27). And then as Joseph’s eyes scan the room, they come to rest upon Benjamin, his own mother’s son. With supreme self-control, Joseph asks, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” 

     Notice how he addressed Benjamin – “God be gracious to you, my son” (v.29). Benjamin, his only full brother, now stands before him. Overcome with emotion, Joseph rushes to a private chamber, where he freely sheds tears of joy and heartache. Joseph washes his face, hoping to conceal the redness of his eyes. He re-enters the room and orders food to be served.

    5.  Conclusion:
To help us understanding the profound difference God’s special regard can make in human life, we can go back to one of the influential myths that has shaped humanity’s view of itself. The story of Achilles, from Greek mythology, still echoes in our world today. According to legend, Achilles’ mother, wanting to bestow immorality on her son, took him to the river Styx and plunged him into its waters. As a result, his entire body became invulnerable to mortal blows – except for one spot, the heel by which she had held him in the water. 

Achilles grew up to become a great hero. The ancient poets recounted a series of noble exploits involving the siege of Troy. Achilles defended Iphigenia, a young princess condemned by a soothsayer to die as a sacrifice. But the princess refused to let him risk his life for her. When King Agamemnon wronged a valiant warrior, Achilles bravely drew his sword against him and was restrained only by the goddess Athena. During the long siege of Troy, his entry into battle saved the day for the retreating Greeks, the rival Trojans trembled before this mighty son of the gods. 

Achilles was also pictured mourning dramatically and honorably when his friend Patroclus. To whom he gave his armor, was killed. Later Achilles received armor more glorious than any yet worn by mortal man. He slew innumerable Trojans who leaped into the river Xanthus like locusts driven from fields on fire, and he then drove the survivors up against the gates of Troy. 

He spotted his nemesis, Hector and pursued him, wielding a massive spear, his armor glowing like fire. Hector fled, but, at last, Achilles drove his weapon through the warrior’s neck. The most enduring version of this tale describes how Achilles fell in love with a daughter of Priam and came unarmed to the temple of Apollo to be married to the princess. 

But there the treacherous Paris gave him a mortal wound in that one vulnerable spot, his heel. Thus the Greeks gave us an enduring image, “Achilles’ heel,” the tragic flaw. The exposed heel became a symbol for a character blemish – something like pride, for example, that proved to be the downfall of more than one Greek hero. What is your Benjamin – the Achilles’ heel that holds you back spiritually? Be a Jacob. Surrender your Benjamin to God.  

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