Not Quite Cricket

Having settled his entire extended family *in Goshen*, Joseph turned his attention back to the huge problem that beset all of Egypt, which was the terrible famine.

Joseph, as Prime Minister, had set up the plan whereby Egyptian food-growers had to give, as taxes to the state, one fifth of the food *they produced*. This was during the years of plenty, when it still rained. Now, however, the rains had stopped, seemingly never to return, so food was no longer growing.

Where, then, could Egyptians now get their food, but from the granaries in which Joseph had stored the food he’d collected as tax. Although Egyptians could lawfully now get from Joseph this food, they still had to pay money for it. This does seem, today, from four thousand years on, a little unfair, for it constituted in effect double taxation. That, though, was how it was.

However, the longer the drought continued, the more the money-savings of Egyptians ran out. Soon their money was gone. A large crowd came to Joseph. Its spokesman said to him, “My Lord, give us food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no money left.”

“Mmmm” said Joseph, “you do have a problem. Tell you what, I’ll give you food for your cattle and sheep, that I’ll accept in lieu of money. How about it?”

“I suppose we don’t have much choice, do we” said the spokesman.

***

Egyptians, after going home and returning with all their cattle and sheep, received from Joseph’s granaries enough food for a year. When the year was finished and it still hadn’t rained, the crowd again sought out Joseph.

“My Lord” said the spokesman, “give us more food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no cattle and sheep left.”

“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” said Joseph, “I expect you think I’ll now give you food for nothing. This would be most unEgyptian.”

“I agree, my Lord” said the spokesman. “So we’ve come up with a plan that I beg you’ll at least consider.”

“Tell me about it.”

“My Lord, seeing as we’ve nothing left but our bodies and our lands, we propose that the Egyptian state, in the person of His Majesty the Pharaoh, becomes the owner of us and our lands, in exchange for the food we need.”

“I like what you say. It’s well thought-out. Logical. I myself couldn’t have come up with anything better. In the name of His Majesty the Pharaoh, I agree to this plan.”

Hence Egyptians became slaves, accepting it better to be a slave but alive, than to be free but dead.

***

All the foregoing applied, though, only to the average Egyptian, but not to priests, of which there were many. Priests, as priests, weren’t deemed average, and so had exalted status. Again, from four thousand years on, this seems a little unfair. Not quite cricket. But that’s how it was.

Source: Genesis 47, 13-26

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How Insensitive

The *last posting* ended with Joseph welcoming his father and brothers and their families as they entered Goshen where they would settle.

As Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph felt an obligation to tell the Pharaoh of his family’s arrival in Goshen because his extended family numbered close to one hundred – a not inconsiderable number in those days. Joseph also felt it would be nice if the Pharaoh could meet his father, Jacob, and some of his brothers too. But, which brothers should he select? And how many?

Joseph thought five would be plenty. Who to select was, though, tricky, He could choose the ones most handsome, to show the Pharaoh what fine brothers he had. Or he could choose the meanest looking, to show the Pharaoh his brothers were not to be messed around with. Or he could choose just the five oldest brothers, or just the five youngest. But any of these criteria of selection would likely cause dissension among the brothers.

Joseph then had a bright idea. Choose from among his brothers just the oldest born to each of their respective mothers, so each mother would be recognised This would eliminate accusations of bias. Joseph therefore chose Reuben – the oldest son of Leah; Gad – the oldest son of Zilpah; Dan – the oldest son of Bilhah; and Benjamin – the younger son of Rachel. Benjamin, as a younger son (whose older brother was Joseph) was the anomaly here. But Rachel had to be recognised.

Thus were four brothers chosen, to correspond with the four different mothers. But, how  to choose the fifth? Joseph settled on Naphtali, because his mother, Bilhah, had been the servant of Jacob’s favourite wife, Rachel (who was Joseph’s mother too).

***

The Pharaoh’s chief of staff cleared his throat loudly at the entrance of the Royal Residence.

“What is it?”

“The Prime Minister’s here, Your Majesty, with five men who he says are his brothers, and one very old man who he says is his father.”

“Send the brothers in, and the Prime Minister too. I’ll see the father later.”

***

After the introductions the Pharaoh said, “Well boys, tell me what you do for a living and what your plans are.”

“If I may speak for all of us, Your Majesty” said the oldest brother, Reuben, “we’re all of us shepherds, and always have been, and our old father, Jacob, too, and all of our forefathers were as well. We’re all hard-working boys, dedicated to making Goshen the best it can be.”

“I don’t want any partying or trouble-making” said the Pharaoh.

“I can put these concerns of yours at rest, Your Majesty” said Joseph. “I’ll be watching my brothers with an eagle eye. Any infractions, and I’ll send them back to Canaan where they’ll die quickly because of the famine there.”

“That’s what I like to hear” said the Pharaoh. “I hereby give my approval for you all to live in Goshen. Now you may go. Send your father in.”

***

“Well well well, we meet at last” said the Pharaoh as Jacob shuffled in to the Royal Presence, “Joseph’s told me so much about you. You’ve led quite a life. I’m dying to hear more about it.”

“In the name of God I bless you” said Jacob.

“I’m not sure you can really do that” said the Pharaoh, “for, as Pharaoh, I’m the embodiment of the sun-god Ra, who’s above all other gods, including yours. However, as a courtesy I’ll not only accept your god’s blessing, but will bless you and your god too.”

“God thanks you and accepts your blessing in the spirit in which He blessed you.”

“Joseph’s told me you’re one-hundred and thirty. I don’t expect to live that long, since I know of no Egyptian who’s lived past one-hundred and twenty.”

“Well, I’m still quite young for a Canaanite Hebrew. Did Joseph tell you my grandfather, Abraham, lived to one-hundred and seventy-five; and my father, Isaac, to one-hundred and eighty?”

“I’d heard. What enables you Canaanite Hebrews to live so long?”

“Who knows. Perhaps our diet – scorpions, bread, olive-oil, that sort of thing. Perhaps our vigorous nomadic outdoor lifestyle, with lots of vitamin D generated in our bodies by plenty of exposure to the desert sun. Also, we’re God’s chosen people, so I’ll guess God arranges that our life-spans are longer than those of other non-chosen peoples. However, I’m only guessing about this last part.”

“I’m glad you had the sensitivity to say that. But, if I may be insensitive for just a moment, you do look terribly old, even for a one-hundred and thirty year-old. I hope you don’t mind my saying this.”

“Not at all Your Majesty. I endured so much manipulation from my mother, Rebecca; and so much terrorism from my ape-like twin-brother, Esau, who our father favoured over me; and so much treachery and unfaithfulness from my wives, with the exception of Rachel who was my true love; and so much mendacity and outright wickedness from my sons, who once threw Joseph down a well and left him for dead and lied to me about it. This has all aged me so terribly, I expect to be dead very soon.”

“Just take it one day at a time” said the Pharaoh.

Source: Genesis 47, 1-12

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Sticking With The Plan

Jacob was fortified by the belief that his feckless sons had, for once, told the truth when they said *Joseph was still alive* – the Joseph who was son Jacob loved above all the others, except perhaps Benjamin.

With gladdened heart, Jacob – and his 11 sons, and all his other extended family, livestock and chattels – set out for Egypt, the land where Joseph had become the second most powerful man. Their first stop was the town of Beersheba, where Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, and also his father, Isaac, had lived for a time. On arrival in Beersheba, Jacob made the sacrifice of a goat in honour of God.

God, wanting to speak with Jacob because He hadn’t spoken with him in ages, said to Jacob later that night, “Psst, this is God. I want a word with you.”

“God?”

“Yes, God. The God of your father.”

“Oh, that God. Look, I’m tired. I’ve travelled all day. Can’t you wait till morning”?

“This won’t take long. I know you fear going down to Egypt, and are only going there because Joseph is there. But I want to tell you, you’ve nothing to fear there. I, your God, am in control of everything. I will make you a great nation. I’ll be with you all the way to Egypt, and I’ll bring you back again. And Joseph will be with you when you die. Trust me.”

Jacob scratched his head, and said, “I remember it being passed down to me as part of our tribal folklore, that You’d once said something similar to my grandfather, Abraham. Well, grandfather did go to Egypt as You’d told him to, but he ended up being ignominiously *expelled from there* by the Pharaoh.”

“That was then. But this is now.”

“And I also remember it being passed down to me as part of our tribal folklore, that You’d told grandfather that his descendants – among whom I count myself – would have to live in a foreign land, where they would be enslaved for *four hundred years*.”

“Indeed. But you conveniently forget that I also told your grandfather, Abraham, that I will punish those who enslave his descendants. Not only that, I’ll also ensure that his descendants come out with great possessions when their four hundred years of slavery is up.”

“Are You still sticking with this plan for us?”

“Er………..yes.”

“Oh God On High, this is of no comfort to me. I mean, I would be long dead when this four-hundred years is up.”

“Stop thinking only of yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about the nation of Israel that I’ve chosen to represent Me on earth.”

The next morning, Jacob and his retinue resumed their journey to Egypt.

****

Shortly before arriving in Goshen – the pastoral area of Egypt where Joseph had said they could all settle – Jacob had sent Judah ahead to meet Joseph and tell him his family was about to descend on Goshen. Joseph forthwith sped there in his chariot.

When Jacob and Joseph saw each other for the first time in over twenty years they embraced and wept and said all the things expected after so long a separation.

Jacob said, “Now I’m ready to die.”

“Oh, come on Father” said Joseph, “you’re not that old, are you?”

“Well, not unless you think one-hundred-and-thirty isn’t old.”

“One-hundred-and thirty’s nothing these days. Remember, your grandfather Abraham died at one-hundred and seventy-five, and your father Isaac died at one-hundred and eighty. You’ve a long way yet, Father.”

***

“Before I forget, Father” said Joseph, “when you meet the Pharaoh, and if he asks what your occupation is, you must say you’re a shepherd, just as our fathers were before us. It’s important you say this because Egyptians look upon shepherds as an abomination.”

“I’m confused.”

“Looking upon shepherds in the way they do, Egyptians will completely eschew Goshen, which we and all our family will then have completely to ourselves. So Egyptian blood won’t contaminate our blood.”

“I see.”

Source: Genesis 46

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“There’s Nothing Like Brothers and Fathers”

You’ll remember from last time, that Joseph, about to tell his brothers who he really was,  *began weeping so loudly* that his neighbours in the surrounding houses could hear him too. In one of these surrounding houses – the one most spacious and ornate – lived the Pharaoh. Like his lower-order neighbours, the Pharaoh wondered what was going on with Joseph. The following morning the Pharaoh sent for him.

“What was that awful noise I heard from your house last night, Mr de-facto Prime Minister? It sounded like you were dying.”

“I do apologise, Your Majesty. I was about to reveal to my brothers visiting from Canaan, that I was their long-lost brother whom they thought dead. To reveal something like this isn’t what one does every day, so the occasion got to me.”

“Yes, I do remember you once telling me you have many brothers, and an aged father too, who live in Canaan. I think it’s wonderful they’re paying you a visit. I’ve always worried about you not having your brothers and father close by. A man, if he’s to be emotionally balanced, needs lots of brothers, as well as a father, with whom he can talk on most days. There’s nothing like brothers and fathers.”

“I’m glad you think this way, Your Majesty, for I’d like my brothers and my old father to escape the famine in Canaan, and come and settle permanently near me in Egypt – I was thinking of Goshen. It would mean so much to me emotionally, and I would be a better de-facto prime minister for this.”

“That would be wonderful. I give you my permission wholeheartedly. I’ll give you the best land in Egypt to settle them in – which indeed would be Goshen – where you can all live off the fat of the land.”

“This really is frightfully good of you, Your Majesty, for I know the feelings among Egyptians about having too many foreigners living among them, especially Hebrews from Canaan, whom they consider even to eat with as an abomination. I should also tell you, Your Majesty, that my brothers and father all have………how can I put this diplomatically……….baggage, lots and lots of it – wives, in-laws, mistresses, children, grandchildren, servants, cattle, sheep, donkeys, chattels, you name it.”

“Absolutely no problem, old chap” said the Pharaoh. “To make things easier for your brothers as they journey back to Canaan to fetch your father and all his retinue, I’m going authorise you to give them all the provisions they ask for. Nothing will be too much.”

When the brothers were all loaded up, ready for their return-journey to Canaan, Joseph, who had come to see them off, said, “Don’t quarrel on the way.”

“Why do you say that, my lord, or should I say, brother?”, said Reuben.

“Well” said Joseph, “I can’t forget what you all once did to me. *Throwing your brother down a well*, leaving him to die, then telling your aged father that his favourite son had been killed by a wild animal, just wasn’t cricket. It was the most evil thing anyone could do. So, although I’ve forgiven you, I’ve no illusions about the fratricidal violence you might perpetrate were you to get into quarrels and fight. You might, out of resentment and jealousy, even kill Benjamin, who I’ll admit I favoured during your stay with me. If I hear about any quarrelling, let alone of any harm to Benjamin while on your journey, I, and solders under my command, will pursue you to wherever you are, and will summarily dispatch you from this earthly realm. Do I make myself clear?”

The brothers said nothing, and rode away.

***

On arriving back in Canaan, the brothers told their father, Jacob, that Joseph was still alive, was the second most powerful man in Egypt, who wanted them all to come and settle in Egypt and live happily ever after.

Having absorbed all this, and recovering from being stunned, Jacob said, “I’m not going to ask you to explain exactly how Joseph got to Egypt, in view of the fact that you brought back his bloody and torn coat, and told me he was dead from being killed by a wild animal. If I ask you what you actually did to Joseph, you’ll just lie. I know it. Except for Benjy, you all make me sick. I only want now to see Joseph before I die.”

Source: Genesis 45, 16-28

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On The Back Foot

When *Judah had finished speaking*, Joseph, hardly able to keep a grip on his emotions, said in a strangled voice to his servants in the room, “Please leave us, now.” The servants did as told. Joseph then began weeping loudly, so loudly that his fellow Egyptians in the surrounding dwellings could hear him too.

It took some time for Joseph to recover his composure. After wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve, Joseph said to his brothers, who were cowering in fear, “Forgive me, gentlemen, I don’t normally weep before strangers. But the time has now come for me to tell you: I am your supposedly dead brother, Joseph.”

The brothers stopped cowering and began hesitantly to laugh. Reuben said, “My lord, you’re not only a great man, you’re a man of great wit too….ha ha ha…….”

“Gentlemen”, said Joseph, “I’ve never been more serious in my life”.

“My lord” said Reuben, “surely you’re saying this just to put us on the back foot. For one thing, our brother Joseph was killed by a wild animal more than 20 years ago. For another thing, you look nothing like Joseph as we remember him. Joseph was young, slim, and had a head of full, thick, black hair. You, on the other hand, look quite old, are distinctly portly, and your hair is wispy and grey”.

“Well” said Joseph, “one’s appearance inevitably changes over 20 years. You, yourselves, don’t look much like you did when you *threw me down that well* and left me for dead. I only suspected who you might be when I overheard you talking among yourselves in Canaanite, a language no Egyptian – apart from me – knows. And when you told me about yourselves and your family when first I asked you, the shekel dropped.”

“You should know, my lord” said Reuben, “that we meant to retrieve you from that well. We threw you down it because we didn’t like it that our father was giving you favoured treatment. We also didn’t like it that you acted all hoity-toity towards us. We just wanted to teach you a lesson. We did come back to pull you out, but you were no longer there. That you could even think we would never come back for you, isn’t worthy of you, my lord.”

“This is now all water under the bridge” said Joseph. “Let us eschew recriminations, for you should know that I, and you all too, were mere puppets on strings that God pulled, for it was He who was the puppet-master. We had no independent will in this matter. Absent your throwing me down that well, and the Midianite merchants *pulling me out*, I wouldn’t have gone down to Egypt, where, after being made a slave, then being freed, I arose to become the de-facto prime minister of all of Egypt, and responsible only to the Pharaoh. It was I, in my de-facto prime-ministerial capacity, who drew up and successfully implemented the plan that enabled Egypt to escape the pernicious effects of the famine, so that all of you, and our father, could later come to Egypt, thus to survive and multiply.”

“This is a lot to take in, my lord” said Reuben. “What you’ve just said would appear to be yet another example of God moving in mysterious ways for our own ultimate good.”

“You could put it that way” said Joseph. “Now, let’s all just lighten up for a while and get to know one another again.” Whereupon Joseph embraced all his brothers, and they embraced him. Then they talked……..and talked into the night.

Source: Genesis 45, 1-15

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Deaf Ears

You’ll remember from *last time* that while the sons of Jacob were loading their donkeys for their return journey to Canaan from Egypt, Joseph had got his steward to put his prized silver goblet into Benjamin’s sack without him knowing.

You’ll also remember that after the brothers had left, Joseph told his steward to set out after them, and, having caught up, to search all the sacks. The steward did as told, and so found the goblet in Benjamin’s sack. Benjamin’s protestations of his innocence fell on deaf ears.

“I’m disappointed in you, Benjy. We’re all disappointed in you, in fact,” said Judah. “Wherever did you get the idea that stealing is kosher?”

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this, I mean really,” said Benjamin, “your hypocrisy is something else. You throw our brother Joseph down a well and leave him for dead, then you tell Father the wild animals ate him, and you disapprove of a little thing like stealing? That’s…….well…….funny. In any case, as I’ve already said, I didn’t steal the goblet.”

“You were with us when we threw Joseph down the well,” said Judah, “and you said nothing when we told Father the wild animals ate him. No, Benjy, you’re as culpable as the rest of us.”

Joseph’s steward, who had been attending to his camel while the brothers were talking, came up to them and said, “I’m afraid, boys, you’ll have to come back with me to explain to the de facto prime minister why you stole his silver goblet.”

***

“Well, well, well,” said Joseph when the brothers were brought in to his tent, “I’d told you, didn’t I, that I had a strong feeling I’d see you again soon. It seems my feeling was correct. Stealing my silver goblet was foolish. You should have known I practice divination, and that a silver goblet is instrumental in this.”

“It was Benjamin here who stole it, Sire,” said Judah, “the rest of us knew nothing of it.”

“I see,” said Joseph, “Well, Benjamin, I’ll have to insist you stay here as my slave. The rest of you can go home.”

“Excuse me, Sire,” said Judah, “you may remember we’d already told you how precious Benjy is to our father, Jacob. If Benjy doesn’t return to him Father will die of sorrow. He only let him come with us when I offered to stand surety for him. So please, Sire, let him go, and keep me as your slave. You won’t regret this. I can do everything Benjy can, and more.”

Source: Genesis 44, 13 – 34 Continue reading

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Au Revoir

*During the meal* with his brothers – who had come to Egypt from Canaan to buy food – Joseph snuck away to find his steward who was lurking behind the de facto prime ministerial tent. Joseph said to the steward, “I’d like for you to fill these men’s packs with lots of food. Also, the silver they each brought with them, put it back in their packs, and put my silver goblet into Benjamin’s pack.”

“You’re sure about the silver goblet?” said the steward, “I know it’s very precious to you. It must be worth a fortune.”

“Don’t try to second-guess me, steward,” said Joseph, ”do only as I say.”

***

The next morning the brothers loaded up their donkeys and took their leave of Joseph.

“Thanks awfully, Mr de facto Prime Minister, for the sumptuous meal and your overall hospitality,” said Reuben. “I speak for all my brothers when I say we’re terribly grateful. And I know Benjamin is especially so, for you gave him such large helpings during the meal that he must have been about to burst. Isn’t that true Benjy?”

“I’m still feeling stuffed,” said Benjamin, who couldn’t suppress a loud burp.

“Benjy, that’s not polite in front of the de facto prime minister,” said Reuben. “Please apologise.”

“No need for Benjamin to do that,” said Joseph, “he was just showing in the classic Egyptian way how much he appreciated the meal. We’ll make of him a bona fide Egyptian yet.”

“Well, another time perhaps,” said Reuben. “Benjy is, after all, returning to Canaan with us. Who knows when we’ll see Egypt again.”

“I have this feeling we’ll soon be meeting again.” said Joseph, “so I’ll say au revoir rather than good-bye.”

Au revoir, then,” said the brothers as they rode away.

***

When the brothers had become mere dots on the horizon, Joseph summoned his steward, and said, “I want you to go after those brothers. When you reach them you are to say, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Why have you stolen the de facto prime minister’s silver goblet – the goblet he not only drinks from, but uses also for divination. You have done a wicked thing.’ Can you remember all that?

“I…..I think so, sire.”

“Repeat it, then.”

The steward repeated back the words.

“Remarkable” said Joseph. “You got everything right the first time. I couldn’t have done that. You’re fitted for better things, I can see.”

“I don’t understand, sire. You told me to put the goblet in Benjamin’s pack. Don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember. Do as I say, and no questions.”

“What you’re doing, sire, doesn’t seem quite…..well……ethical, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“I do mind your saying. Any more backchat, and things may go exceedingly bad for you. My executioner doesn’t have a full calendar right now, and could do with more work. Understand….mmm?”

***

The brothers, and particularly their donkeys, were finding it hard-going as they slogged through the desert because of all the food plus silver they had to carry, and not to speak of being scorched under the broiling sun. They saw behind them far away a tiny speck that kept getting bigger. It finally got so big that the brothers could not help but see it was Joseph’s steward and some other men riding on camels.

“Oy, you” shouted the steward at the brothers, “Why have you repaid good with evil? Why have you stolen the de facto prime minister’s silver goblet – the goblet he not only drinks from, but uses also for divination. You have done a wicked thing.”

“What’s this gibberish you’re talking?” shouted back Reuben.

The steward and his men had by now surrounded the brothers.

“Open your packs for inspection,” said the steward.

“You may search them,” said Reuben, “but you definitely won’t find the de facto prime minister’s goblet. We’re  men of honour, sons of Jacob no less. It’s as unthinkable that we stole the goblet as it is that there’s no God.”

“We didn’t come here for a metaphysical discussion,” said the steward. “The sooner we search your packs the sooner this unpleasantness is finished.”

When the goblet was found in the pack of Benjamin, his brothers were (understandably) furious.

“How could you do this, Benjy,” said Reuben.

“Yes, Benjy, how could you do this,” said Judah, “I know. It must be because your mother was Rachel, not Leah, who our mother was.”

“Speak for yourselves, Brother Reuben and Brother Judah,” said Naphtali. “You forget that the mothers of some of us were neither Leah nor Rachel.

“I’m innocent, my brothers,” wailed Benjamin, “I put nothing in my pack that wasn’t mine. Honest.”

Source: Genesis 44, 1 – 12

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