Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, Part 5: Genesis 43-50

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Last time, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food. Joseph pretended not to know them, and put them in prison for a few days. Then, he sent most of them home, holding one until they should return with the youngest brother in tow. When the brothers told Jacob, he had a strong reaction. What do you think it was?

Did you miss Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4?

Shirlee was ready in the classroom when the kids tromped up the stairs and down the hall. “We’re behind schedule,” she explained as they took their seats, “I’d really like to wrap up Joseph today. Do you think we can do that?”

“How much is there to cover?” asked Ginny, unsure.

“Seven chapters.”

“Seven?!” John was shocked. “We usually cover one or two!”

“Well, let’s see how we do. OK?” Shirlee’s eyes swept around the room, peering over her reading glasses. Nobody objected; of course, they never did when she gave ‘the look’, what some folks would have called the ‘evil eye’. “Good. Now, when Joseph’s brothers returned from Egypt, having left Simeon in bondage, but with food, they were all afraid when they found their money in the food sacks. Then they told Jacob that they had to bring Benjamin, the youngest, back to Egypt to secure Simeon’s release. What did Jacob do?”

The kids couldn’t agree on an answer quickly enough, so Shirlee provided the answer. “He cowered in fear and did nothing. He refused to let the brothers take Benjamin to Egypt, even when Reuben offered the lives of his own two sons as collateral for Benjamin.”

“So he just let Simeon rot in prison?” asked John.

“That’s right,” answered Shirlee.

“A JERK!” gloated Ginny, happy to see that once again, ‘those Bible people’ were jerks.

“Yes, I suppose so. Or maybe just a scared old man, Ginny. You could learn a little about empathy,” scolded Shirlee.

Mark put up his hand, signaling yet another of his pointed questions to come. “But Shirlee . . .”

Shirlee sighed in response.

“Isn’t this Jacob the same fellow who had discussions with God? And wrestled with Him? And who had the gall to remind God that He’d promised that his ‘seed’ would be ‘as the sand of the sea’? (Genesis 32:9-12)”

“That’s the one, Mark.”

“So instead of praying for guidance, even though he had a direct line to the Almighty, he just hid in a corner.”

“Figuratively speaking.”

“Right.”

“Yes. May we continue with the story now?” There was ‘the look’ again. Mark wisely remained silent as Shirlee turned to her King James Bible and began paraphrasing the story for the class.

The famine continued, and Jacob and family ate up all the food that Joseph’s brothers had brought from Egypt. Jacob told his sons to go back to Egypt and buy more food.

Judah reminded Jacob that the ‘man’, who had imprisoned Simeon, had told them that he would not see them (or, it implies, sell to them) if they didn’t bring Benjamin with them. So, if Jacob wouldn’t let Benjamin go, they wouldn’t go either.

Jacob complained, asking why his sons had treated him so poorly as to say they had another brother at home. His sons defended themselves, saying that the ‘man’ had asked them about their family; how would they know he’d want proof? (Genesis 43:1-7)

John snickered.

“What’s so funny, John?” snapped Shirlee.

“Oh, it just reminds me of my Mom.”

Shirlee sighed, then wearily inquired, “How so?”

“You know, the guilt trip. ‘You didn’t get an A in Math? How could you do this to me?’ As if everything a son does is intended to help or harm the parent.”

“My mom does that, too,” said Ginny, quickly adding, “Hasn’t worked since I was six.”

“Fine, so Jacob is a nagging mother hen. May I continue the story?”

Without waiting for a response, Shirlee turned back to the book.

Judah made Jacob an offer better than Reuben’s; if Benjamin came with them, he’d offer his own life as collateral if the boy did not return safely. He also explained that ‘the man’ had said he would not see them without Benjamin, so they would not go to Egypt without him.

He further pointed out that if they hadn’t waited all this time, they could have been to Egypt and back a second time already. (Genesis 43:8-10)

“Bible people sure do bicker a lot,” Ginny observed.

Shirlee didn’t even look up.

Thus Jacob invented the gift basket, an utterly impersonal expression of generosity still common to this day.

Jacob told Judah that if that was what had to be, then they should bring double the money in case there had been an error, and also a gift for ‘the man’ of honey, and spices, and nuts, and the like from the land of Canaan.

They did so. When Joseph saw them, he had them brought to his house, and told his servants to prepare a feast. But the brothers weren’t informed what was going on, and thought they were being taken to Joseph’s house to be accused about the money in their sacks; they were afraid he’d take them as slaves, and also take their asses. (Genesis 43:11-18)

“Did the wind ever blow in Egypt, Shirlee?”

“Of course, Mark. Why do you ask?”

“Were they afraid of that, too? First they were afraid of their money; now they get taken to Joseph’s own home and are afraid they’re going to be arrested. It’s not like it’s a normal thing to take people to your home so you can arrest them, what with guards all around already.”

“Yes, Mark. Are we going to get through this today, or are you going to keep making fun of the sons of the last Patriarch?”

“Um . . . Yes.”

Shirlee rolled her eyes and turned back to her Bible.

Joseph weeps after seeing Benjamin. Image: The Bible Picture Book, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1870.

So they talked to the steward at Joseph’s house, and told him they’d found the money in their sacks, and showed that they’d brought it back. The steward told them that their god had given back their money, and brought Simeon out. Then he brought them into the house and gave them water to wash, and fed their asses.

When Joseph arrived, they gave him the gift basket and bowed down to him. He asked how they were, and if their father was alive; they told him that yes, he was still alive and in good health. Then Joseph saw Benjamin, and had to leave the room due to the yearning of his bowels.

When he returned from his room, he told his slaves to bring out the food. Joseph ate by himself, and the Egyptians ate by themselves, apart from Joseph’s brothers; the Egyptians considered it an abomination to eat with Hebrews. Joseph gave five times as much food to Benjamin. (Genesis 43:19-34)

“I went to a Kosher deli once, I can imagine why they ate separately . . .”

Shirlee immediately interrupted. “It had nothing to do with the food, John, and they didn’t have Kosher delis then. It was a religious thing. The Egyptians were bigots and considered God’s Chosen People to be beneath them.”

Ginny raised her hand. “Why did he give five times as much to Benjamin?”

“And why were his bowels straining?” added Mark. “That’s an odd reaction to a relative!”

Shirlee sighed, increasingly vexed by these silly questions. “Ginny, he loved Benjamin more than the others, probably because he had nothing to do with selling him into slavery. And his bowels yearning just meant he had strong feelings inside!”

“Like diarrhea. That’s a strong feeling.”

“No, not like . . .”

“Have you ever had it? It’s pretty strong.”

“Joseph did not have . . .”

“Then why does it say he did? All sorts of things can cause, er, gastrointestinal distress.”

Ginny, always helpful, jumped in. “Maybe he’d had some bad water earlier, and was sick. They didn’t have sewers, you know.”

“Ewww!” groaned John.

“Mark, do you want to spend some time in the supply closet?” snapped Shirlee.

“No, not particularly. I think I’ll be quiet now.”

Shirlee turned back to start the next chapter.

Joseph’s servant finds the silver cup in wee Benjamin’s sack. Image:
Aleksandr Andreyevich Ivanov, 1833.

Joseph decided to mess with his brothers again, and told the steward to fill his brothers’ sacks with food, and put their money back in it, and also put his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The next day, they left, and Joseph sent his men after them to accuse them of stealing.

The brothers were aghast, pointing out that they’d brought the money back from the previous trip, and saying that if any of them had stolen, he should be put to death, and the rest would be slaves. In the search, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, and the brothers were sad, and tore their clothes, and went back to Joseph’s house.

Joseph accused them, asking if they didn’t know that a man like him could divine truth? (Genesis 44:1-15)

“JERK!” cried Ginny.

“LIAR!” added John.

“Divination sin sin death punish Joseph sinner bad abomination witchcraft!” babbled Tom Cerveaux, who had been quite peaceful the last few Sundays.

“Not yet, Tom. Moses isn’t born yet to give them the Law,” soothed Ginny, who’d learned that from Mark a while back. “But Joseph is a jerk and a liar.”

“If we’re all finished . . .” Shirlee drummed her fingers on the desk. “Mark? Got anything?”

Mark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Nah, I think they’ve covered it all.”

“Good.”

Judah recognized they were caught red-handed, and offered all of the brothers as slaves to Joseph. Joseph said no, only the one whose hand the cup was found in, he shall be my slave, and the rest of you may leave.

Judah approached Joseph and spoke privately with him, telling him that Jacob was old and would simply die if they returned without Benjamin, offering to remain himself in Benjamin’s place. (Genesis 44:16-34)

Ginny seemed to have something to say. Shirlee decided to beat her to the punch.

“See, Ginny? Not a jerk!”

“I dunno . . .”

“What? He offered to stay and be a slave in place of his brother!”

“Yes, but he had offered his life to his father if he returned without Benjamin. He didn’t tell Joseph that part, that Jacob would kill him.”

Shirlee sighed. “It must be difficult for you.”

“What?”

“Being perfect, like you are. And here amongst all we mere mortals.”

“I find her perfection refreshing,” opined Mark, “especially compared to the Bible people. You know, the role models.”

Ginny blushed, the tips of her ears burning. She was almost glad when Shirlee snapped, “If you’re done flirting with Ginny, we have five more chapters to cover today!”

Joseph couldn’t contain himself any longer, and sent all the Egyptians out, leaving him alone with his brothers. He revealed who he was to them, and told them not to be worried or angry with themselves, for God had sent him to Egypt ahead of them to manage the famine and preserve his own family. He also explained that God had made him as a father to Pharaoh, and a ruler throughout Egypt. (Genesis 45:1-8)

“See? The Lord does work in mysterious ways, don’t you agree?” Shirlee waited for sullen nods from the class.

“That’s mysterious, all right, Shirlee,” agreed Mark. “About as mysterious as a Lifetime movie, and about as believable.”

“What do you mean?” Shirlee, surprised that someone as young as Mark would be familiar with the formulaic, happy-ending TV movies made by the Lifetime channel, was momentarily off her guard.

“My mom makes us watch that channel when she can’t find anything sufficiently horrible on Hallmark. Tragedy, betrayal, and then everything somehow gets tied up in a neat little happy bow at the end where everybody wins. Schlock.”

“Yeah,” added Ginny, “like an M. Night Shyamalan movie or something!”

“It’s not like God needed to send Joseph to Egypt to preserve Jacob’s family,” John said thoughtfully. “I mean, He could just have made it rain in Canaan, and made the Jews the wealthy nation that had food.”

Shirlee saw an opening. “And that’s just what you all are missing. Yes, God could very easily have made sure that Jacob’s people had food enough to eat. He could even have prevented the famine, and the deaths of many who no doubt starved to death. But He didn’t. Can you figure out why?”

Mark smirked. “The same reason Santa Claus doesn’t put coal in my stocking?”

“Would you like to explain to your parents why they had to come get you from the Pastor’s office after service, Mark?” Shirlee wasn’t joking about the supply closet this time.

Mark drew his fingers across his mouth as if zipping it shut.

“Thank you.” Shirlee continued, “God didn’t just save the day in a simple, unobtrusive manner because Jacob’s family, the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel, would not have had it made clear to them how completely they depend upon God’s mercy to survive! And that’s the lesson for us, that we all depend on God, and His willingness to help us. Without Him, we’d be on our own in the cold, cruel world!”

This starving child in Somalia shows how much God loves you, just as He starved Egyptians to show how much He loved Jacob’s family. Image: Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press, 2011

“So . . .” John was trying to choose the right words, hoping for a selection that’d not get him sent to the Pastor’s office. “God, who is all-powerful, has a desperate need for us to need Him? And so He messes with us until we do?”

“Exactly!” cried Shirlee, thumping her fist on the desk. “Yes! God wants us to depend on Him and know He is watching out for us!”

“. . . and will happily starve thousands who’ve never even heard of Him to death to make that point to a handful of special chosen people,” John finished.

“They already didn’t believe in Him, John. What’s the difference if they die a little sooner or a little later? They’re all going to Hell anyway, for not believing.” Shirlee was surprised John didn’t understand this basic Christian doctrine.

“Continuity, continuity, not yet no hell not yet no hell,” mumbled Tom.

“Ginny, please make sure your cousin doesn’t have one of his . . . episodes,” Shirlee pleaded. She was finally seeing the light of understanding in the kids’ eyes, and didn’t want him to distract them. “And yes, Tom, I’m well aware the Bible hasn’t mentioned Hell yet. But we all know that’s what happens to all non-believers. Right?”

Mark nodded. “John 3:18, right?”

“Right, Mark!” Shirlee smiled, flipping to the selected verse and reading out for the class:

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)

Shirlee continued. “See? Any non-believer–say,” turning to look at Mark, “someone who thinks God is like Santa Claus–is condemned specifically for not believing, no matter what else he has or has not done.”

Tom sat back in his chair with a look of quiet contentment on his face, as the cracked church bell clanked out its warning that time was up.

“Darn it!” cried Shirlee. “We only got into the start of Chapter 45!”

“Oh, just give us the Cliff Notes version,” said John. “We’ve been on Joseph for weeks.”

“Fine,” gasped an exasperated Shirlee. “Joseph told them who he was, and told them to go and get Jacob and all the family and bring them and their herds to live in the land of Goshen.

“Chapter 46, Jacob talks to God who tells him yes, take all your people and go to Egypt, and I’ll make you a great nation down there instead of up here. So Jacob packed up all his family and herds and such and went to Egypt, and met with Joseph in Goshen. Joseph told him to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds, and Pharaoh would let them live out in Goshen because shepherds were an abomination to Egyptians.

Joseph receives his father in Egypt. Image: Nicolaes Cornelisz Moeyaert, 1628.

“Chapter 47, Joseph talked to Pharaoh, then the brothers talked to Pharaoh and said they were shepherds and asked to stay in Goshen. Pharaoh gave them permission, and asked Joseph to make any good men of the family heads over Pharaoh’s own cattle.

“Jacob then met with Pharaoh and explained he was now 130 years old, and complained that he hadn’t lived as long as his fathers. Then he blessed Pharaoh and left.

“Joseph gave them some of the best land in Egypt, and Joseph made sure his family got food.

“Still in Chapter 47,” panted Shirlee, as people streamed out of the sanctuary into the gravel parking lot below. “The famine continued, until Joseph had collected all the money in the land for Pharaoh. Then the people brought their cattle in exchange for food, until Joseph had collected all the cattle in the land for Pharaoh. Then they offered up their land, because they had nothing else, and then Pharaoh owned all the land of the country.”

Ginny cut in. “Even the land Joseph had given his family?”

“Doesn’t say, but since they were managing Pharaoh’s cattle, and getting food from Joseph, probably not.”

“Redistribution of wealth,” observed John.

“Do you all want to be on Joseph next week, or may I finish?” With that, Shirlee turned back to the Bible.

“Joseph then moved all the people into cities, off their land, except for the Egyptian priests; Pharaoh had granted them a portion of the food.”

“What is this, socialism? Government ownership of all property? Centralized planning? Was this Egypt, or the USSR?” Mark couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Shirlee, annoyed at the interruption, ignored Mark. “Joseph then gave the people seed to sow on the land, and told them they could keep four of five parts of the harvest, and they would have to give the fifth part to Pharaoh.

“Jacob’s family, or Israel, grew wealthy in Goshen. Jacob reached 147 years of age, and knew he would die soon. He asked that he be buried in Canaan with his fathers.”

Shirlee took a deep breath, then glanced out the window. “Three chapters to go, and your parents are looking around for you.” Taking another deep breath, she forged ahead.

“Chapter 48, Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. He blessed the younger (Ephraim) more greatly than the firstborn, Manasseh, saying that while each son would become ‘a great people’, Ephraim’s offspring would be more numerous and greater than Manasseh’s.

“Chapter 49, Jacob gathered all his sons together and prophesied about the remainder of their lives. He revealed to everybody that Reuben had defiled Jacob’s bed (by sleeping with one of his concubines, Genesis 35:22), and told him he would not excel. He described Simeon and Levi as cruel, and that they would be divided and scattered because they slaughtered the Hivites (discussed in More Dishonorable Dealings: Genesis 34). The remaining sons received more positive prophesies, without recountings of their wrongdoings. Then, having got that off his chest, Jacob died.

Jacob’s body is taken to Canaan in grand Egyptian style. Image: James J. Tissot, 19th century.

“Chapter 50, Joseph had Jacob embalmed, and got permission from Pharaoh to take the body up to Canaan to bury him. Joseph and his brothers, and many elders of Egypt went with him and they had a great mourning for seven days, then buried him in the cave he’d specified.”

“Shirlee, is everything OK?” Pastor Gardner was standing in the doorway.

“Oh, of course, Pastor. We’re just finishing the very last page of Genesis. They’ll be down in just two shakes of the Lamb’s tail!” Shirlee grinned at her joke.

“Very well. I’ll tell the parents that you’ve got them spellbound with the Word.” Pastor Gardner shut the door and walked away, his heavy footfalls felt throughout the room. He wasn’t a small man.

“OK, where were we?”

John put up his hand. “They stuck Jacob in a cave.”

Seventeen years later, Joseph’s brothers beg forgiveness again, now that Daddy isn’t there to intervene. Image: Unknown.

In such a rush she didn’t bother to correct John’s inadequate description of the events, Shirlee continued, “Right. Joseph’s brothers sent a messenger to him, since after seventeen years of being best friends, they were suddenly afraid that with their father dead, he’d hold their selling him into slavery against them. They followed up the messenger by going in person to beg Joseph’s forgiveness.

“Joseph told them, as he had seventeen years earlier, that God had put him where he was so they could be kept alive, and comforted them.

“Joseph lived to be 110 years old, and saw his sons grow up, and their children as well. Before he died, he asked that his family swear to bury him with his father. Then he died. The end.”

Shirlee snapped the Bible shut. “Any questions?”

“I’d like to know more about,” started Mark, stopping as his mother’s face appeared at the glass in the classroom door. “Next time, I guess,” he concluded. Shirlee marveled that he almost sounded reluctant.

“Next week it is. See you then, and we’ll start on Exodus!” Shirlee opened the door and began apologizing to the crowd of parents in the hallway.

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