Tuesday

06 October 2015

“For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in the place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (vv. 32-33)

Psalm: Psalm 104:1-23


Background

Jacob had twelve sons with four different women, but only the youngest two, Joseph and Benjamin, were the children of Rachel, the wife he'd chosen for himself, after many years of trying to conceive. As far as he knew Joseph was dead, and in this passage, Judah speaking for the rest of the brothers assumed the same (verse 20), even though the brothers originally made up that story and sold Joseph alive as a slave. Little does he realise that it is his brother Joseph whom he is now addressing and describing as being "like Pharaoh himself" in status (v. 18).

Having lost Joseph it is easy to understand how protective Jacob must have felt about Benjamin, the remaining son of his beloved wife. It was only when the family had become desperate to buy food from Egypt during the famine that Jacob had allowed Benjamin to go with them in response to Joseph's prior demand (Genesis 42:33 - 43:15). Of the ten other brothers it had been Judah who had originally persuaded them to sell Joseph rather than kill him over their jealousy of his place in their father's affections (Genesis 37:26-27), and it was he who had promised Jacob he would guarantee Benjamin's safety with his own life (Genesis 43:8-9). Judah is emerging as the most honourable of the brothers as is fitting of the one who will eventually be the ancestor of King David and of Jesus himself (Matthew 1:2-16).

So Judah pleads, in this passage, for permission to take the place of Benjamin in prison on charge of theft. Thereby he can discharge the promise he made to their father.

"Sheol" (vv. 29, 31) stands for the unknown world of the dead, so "bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol" is both a poetic and euphemistic way of saying that such a tragedy would prove the death of an old man.


To Ponder

  • Do you know people whose lives, even if they have continued for many years, effectively ended when tragedy such as the death of a child affected them? Is there any way past such experiences? What might they be?
  • Was Judah right to promise his father that he would take the blame if any harm came to Benjamin? How far is this an example we might follow?
  • What parallels are there between Judah's proposal in this passage and what Jesus did for each of us on the cross?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you