It can be strange revisiting a place after many years. In my experience, they are never quite the same as I remembered them. The places from my childhood are actually much smaller than in my memories, probably because I’ve grown in size myself. There are some things however, that never seem to change, homes retain a sort of atmosphere, if you were welcomed years ago, chances are, there will be the same welcome today. In this chapter we are once more in Jacob’s home or more probably his encampment after many years and its clear, the same negative atmosphere persists.
The first thing to see here is Jacob’s favouritism. We’ve been here before and favouritism within the family has followed Jacob right through his life; from his early struggles with Esau, to the tension between Rachel and Leah and now the clear pecking order with Benjamin as the most loved son. It seems he had made peace with his father and brother but his favouritism of Joseph over the others had fuelled their hatred of him and now they are in no doubt that Benjamin is the most valued. When we look at this with the perspective of the New Testament we see that God’s purpose is to reconcile people to himself, whilst sin always brings divisions. As believers we should be committed to preaching and living out reconciliation and unity;
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
The second thing to note here is the change among the brothers. As we saw yesterday, they were still in the grip of guilt. As soon as Joseph (who they did not recognise) is stern with them, they say; “Surely we are being punished because of our brother.” (42:21). Why should they connect the two unrelated things? Perhaps it was because they were in Egypt, Joseph’s destination all those years earlier. They had certainly failed to deal with their guilt in that they were still lying about Joseph being ‘no more’ (42:13). Rueben’s guarantee to Jacob was just not believed or considered useless. These are the last words we will hear from Rueben. Not only did he fail to protect Joseph when as the eldest he should have stepped in, he had sinned greatly with his step mother/aunt Bilhah (35:22). The next eldest sons, Simeon and Levi, had been deceitful and violent to the people of Shechem (34:1-31), something that had angered Jacob (34:30). All of this left a vacuum which as we shall see tomorrow will be filled by Judah.
It seems Jacob was always living in a difficult environment and much of this was his own fault. His family didn’t look much like the families that we used to see in the TV adverts; Dad always wearing a shirt and tie, Mum blond wearing an apron, two cute kids, a boy and a girl, all very white with even whiter teeth. Jacob’s family was dysfunctional and messed up but God was working through them. The brothers had sinned grievously but God was still working, bringing about his purposes for their good and if he can do that in this family, he can work through our families and through our churches. That must mean that God is bigger than the messed up situations in which we find ourselves.
There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting, you’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding, you’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper, you have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever, perfect in love
You are sovereign over us (Aaron Keyes, Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring)