It is interesting that when we read the Joseph story we often look for ways in which Joseph casts a long shadow into the New Testament in order to help us in some way or another to see Jesus. But I wonder if that methodology is misplaced when looking at chapter forty-two. In fact, I wonder if the real comparison to be made is not necessarily between Jacob and Joseph so much as it is a comparison and contrast between Jacob and God the Father.
Everybody loves the Joseph story. Chapters thirty-seven through fifty with the minor exception of chapter thirty-eight seem to be all about Joseph. And that is exactly why we have to remind ourselves that the story is not Joseph’s but Jacob’s story. Genesis 37:2 reminds us that these are the records of the generations of Jacob. When we apply this understanding to the Joseph story we find some very interesting lessons.
Take chapter forty-two as an example. Most commentators tell us that although this text is an unrepeatable event in the history of redemption the take home value for us is the test devised by Joseph, which will eventually lead to reconciliation. Apparently, one can forgive but before reconciliation can take place the relational waters must first be tested or so we are often told.
However, let me suggest that since this is the book of the generations of Jacob we look at chapter forty-two from Jacob’s perspective. For instance, let’s ask a simple question. How does this chapter begin and end? Let’s take a look. It opens and closes in exactly the same way – with Benjamin in Jacob’s death grip! Remember that the chapter opens with Jacob chastising his sons as to why they had not gone to Egypt in order to buy food. Why were they simply standing around looking at one another? But only ten sons set out for Egypt because Jacob would not send Benjamin for fear that harm would befall him (42:4). And when the brothers returned needing to take Benjamin down to Egypt in order to free Simeon and also to enjoy the liberty of trading in the land during the famine – Jacob said no, my son shall not go down with you.
Let me ask you a question. Do you see what Jacob has done? First, as a father he has failed. He seems to be willing to allow his family to die of starvation in order to preserve the life of Benjamin from some unforeseen accident while traveling to Egypt. But as bad as that is there is something far worse. Jacob is the patriarch of God’s people through whom the promise would come. But Jacob does not appear to care. His only thought is for Benjamin’s safety.