Remember the Cold War? When the Soviets were the bad guys instead of Al Qaeda? When the biggest threat was "the big red button" being pushed and starting a nuclear holocaust? Ronald Reagan started a spending spree on a missile defence system. A "Star Wars" technology that would shoot Russia's missiles out of the sky before they could reach our shores. It bankrupted our enemy, and we won the Cold War without ever firing a shot. Or so the Russians said. They agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenal. Signed a treaty to promise it would be done. Reagan's response was, "Trust, but verify." I think Reagan got the idea from Joseph in this chapter of the Bible.
Joseph's history with his brothers is not one of great trust. True, Joseph was a spoiled little boy who tattled and taunted his older brothers with visions of them bowing down to him. So, when an opportunity arose, they got rid of the pest by selling him into slavery. Years have passed. Joseph has matured, but he has no way of knowing if his brothers have, too. He decides to test them.
Joseph, who has not yet revealed his identity to his brothers, tells them they must bring their youngest brother next time they need food from Egypt. He will judge for himself how Benjamin fares. He also has the money they brought to buy the grain secretly stashed back in their sacks.
The brothers return home, and soon enough, they must return for more grain...bringing Benjamin with them. Jacob, their father, is old and does not want to let the boy out of his sight. Last time the brothers went on a journey without him, Joseph was torn to shreds by a wild animal (or so he was told). Should something happen to the only son left of Rachel, it will send him to his death in abject misery. But it is either potentially lose one son or kill all his sons and livestock through starvation.
When the brothers return to Egypt, they pass the first test by bringing the money back Joseph had stashed in their bags last trip. But how will they react when another opportunity to be rid of a spoiled, younger son arises? Joseph has his servant stash all they money and his special cup in Benjamin's bag. He then sends the servant after his brothers with an accusation. Whoever has stolen the money and cup will be killed.
It's the perfect set up.
All the brothers return, though Joseph's servant has said only Benjamin is guilty. Judah, the one who has learned some humility through his dealings with Tamar, begs Joseph to take him instead of Benjamin. Despite thinking Benjamin is guilty (vs. 16). Despite Joseph's position being like unto Pharaoh.
I imagine the scene something like this: Judah asks for a private word with Joseph. They step into a more secluded corner of the room, but Joseph can still see everything. As Judah is pleading for his brother's life, asking to be the one enslaved instead of Benjamin, the other brothers have encircled the boy in a protective huddle. If they must, they will protect this favorite son to the death, hoping the second-most powerful man in Egypt is satisfied with their blood and allow their brother to return to their father.
Nice story, you think, but what practical application does it have?
Has someone sold you down the river? Sabotaged your authority? Made you look bad in front of your boss? Climbed over the top of you, clawing your back, in order to get ahead? Lied about you to look better? If you've lived longer than 15 years, the answer is a definitive, "Yes!" What would you do if, a few years later, that person was entirely at your mercy? Joseph could have ordered every last one of his brothers killed and no one would have questioned it. He could have enslaved them. He could have done ANYTHING HE WANTED to them, because he was second only to Pharaoh. But he decides to test them first. See if they have matured as he has. Verify their trustworthiness.
God gives us a pattern for offering trust again...which is different from forgiveness, remember. (See Reconciliation and Distrust from my blog on April 7, 2010.) There are times to trust again. Ways to be certain it is safe to extend your heart once more.
Trust comes after verification.
Until next time,