Genesis 44:18-34 It is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for men’s favour

Genesis 44:18-34 It is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for men’s favour

Then Judah approached him, and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 We said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 Our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?”

Background

Judah’s speech is like a beacon of light bringing clarity to the circumstances surrounding the silver cup crime. Judah begins with the history of their journeys to Egypt while dwelling on their father’s reluctance to release Benjamin lest he suffer the misery of losing another son. He subtly warns that the loss of Benjamin will kill the father. He consummates his speech by offering himself in place of Benjamin so as to spare his father of another loss. Judah does what is right by sacrificing himself for a brother more loved than himself. In so doing, he wins not only God’s favour but also his father’s unrivalled blessing. Today’s devotion teaches us that it is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for the favour of men.

Observation

Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears

In Judah’s speech, we can see a reversal in their earlier violation of filial and fraternal bonds. Judah represents his brothers in verbalising their repentance thus, rising up whence they have once fallen.

For you are equal to Pharaoh (v18)… Acknowledgment of Joseph’s authority and dominion over them.

Now his brother is dead (v20)… This emphasises Jacob’s attachment to Benjamin as the only surviving son of his favourite wife Rachel.

And his father loves him (v20)… Jacob retains his tendencies and dotes upon Benjamin.

For if he should leave his father, his father would die (v22)… The stark and painful acknowledgment of his father’s favouritism. It was favouritism that moved the brothers to harm Joseph. But now, this favouritism was used as ground for mercy.

Unless your youngest brother comes down with you (v23)… An appeal for mercy as Judah has taken upon himself to bring Benjamin at Joseph’s request.

You know that my wife bore me two sons (v27) … Jacob identifies with his father by putting his attitude into words. In so doing, he relegates himself to a place of inferiority, as son of the other woman of the household.

“Surely he is torn in pieces,” I have not seen him since (v28)… Joseph hears for the first time the official position of his disappearance and his father’s persistent lament and grief.

You will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow (v29)… Judah speaks his father’s exact words should Benjamin fails to return.

Since his life is bound up in the lad’s life (v30)… A way of portraying Benjamin as the lifeline of Jacob.

When he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die (v31)… A subtle warning of the consequence that binds Joseph’s decision to the fate of their father.

Bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow (v31)… An iteration of Jacob’s words to show the severity of the consequence should Benjamin not return.

Let me bear the blame before my father forever (v32)… Judah makes known his commitment to his father. For the sake of the family’s wellbeing, and for Benjamin’s safety, he will bear the risk with his own life.

Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord

Judah offers himself as slave in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom. His words reveal his compassion for his father for he pleaded to be sacrificed in exchange for one more loved than himself. Judah’s spirituality is one of filial devotion and brotherly love for he used his disadvantaged position as a lesser son as ground for self-sacrifice.

Truth

It is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for men’s favour

Judah, by this time has come to accept that somethings will never change. Jacob will continue to single out Benjamin as his favourite as he has done before for Joseph. He holds no apologies in his statement, ”You know my wife bore me two sons” as though Leah were not also his wife and the ten were not also his sons. Yet, Judah harbours deep empathy for his father’s wellbeing. So much so he is willing to give himself so that the younger “legitimate” son can be set free. Even though Judah has accepted the fact that it is impossible to gain his father’s favour, he chooses to do what is right. Hence, Judah’s acts of filial and fraternal devotion arises purely out of the desire to walk in the truth.

In another occasion, when the household was threatened by Jacob’s intransigence to dispatch them to Egypt to purchase grain, he took it upon himself to insure Benjamin’s safety. It is in moments like this that Judah outshines his brothers in wisdom and love. In choosing to do what is right at great personal costs, he gains God’s approval. In fact, the bible is explicit in declaring God’s favour for Judah and His descendants. Prophet Hosea prophesied that God will deliver Judah whom He loves from the Assyrians, but not the house of Israel:

I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God…” Hosea 1:6-7

And again the psalmist proclaims God’s love and faithfulness towards Judah and His descendants, but not the other tribes.

He also rejected the tent of Joseph,
And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
But chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion which He loved. Psalm 78:67-68

Judah was not perfect; he engineered the sale of Joseph into slavery some twenty-two years earlier. Now, he engineers the freedom of Benjamin by offering himself as slave. To what does Judah owe this miraculous transformation? It is through a series of moral struggles and repentance that made him who he is. On one occasion, Judah confessed to his deceit when he broke his promise and did not give his son Shelah to Tamar as husband (see Genesis 38:26).

Indeed, the love of human beings is unpredictable, arbitrary and at times bitterly unjust, but the favour of God belongs to those who walk in the truth. The proverbs say,

Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4

As it turns out, Judah gained unrivalled favour and supremacy not only with God but also with his father. For he inherited a much better blessing than Joseph and Benjamin at his father’s death bed (see Genesis 49:8-12).

Application

Are you still brooding over the unjust treatment that you received in time past? Such that it affects your judgment and the way you interact with others. Is your survival strategy to ingratiate yourself to your bosses? The favour of men is arbitrary, unpredictable and at times bitterly unjust. But the favour of God is there for the taking if you consistently choose to do what is right even at great personal costs. God is continually testing your heart through your attitudes and the decisions that you make. God is righteous and will reward you in due time.

Dear Lord, I am committed to do what is right even when no one appreciates. My heart’s desire is to please you in all that I do. Strengthen me when my resolve starts to wane and when I ingratiate myself with people of influence. Cause me to walk in the truth for God and God alone. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

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