Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.
The struggle to get along in families of origin is universal. They are vexing, baffling environments in which opportunities to hurt and be hurt are ripe. This is often where forgiveness and grace is best learned and practiced. I think God places us in families with polar opposite personalities where we have the opportunity to choose forgiveness and peace over bitterness and anger. I know of so many people who undergo therapy to recover from the pain of family.
Were there “dysfunctional” families in the Bible? The Patriarchs of the Old Testament are riddled with jealousy, anger, revenge and despair. It starts with Abraham and Sarah and filters all the way down to Jacob and Rachel with Joseph. Although Joseph is best known for being mistreated by his older brothers in their younger days, Genesis 44 is a powerful example of reconciliation and forgiveness within the epitome of the dysfunctional family.
The story opens in a fascinating scene of how Joseph, guided by God, chooses to test his brothers’ integrity. Joseph plants his silver cup, which represents his authority, into Benjamin’s sack as the crew is loading donkeys and preparing to return to Canaan. It’s a serious crime in this culture to steal the silver cup of divination. Punishment is slavery. Shortly after they leave, Joseph sends a servant to catch up with them and search through their sacks to determine where the “missing” silver cup is. Oops. Benjamin is in trouble and the other brothers are terrified for Benjamin’s life. Back to Joseph’s house.
In his powerful position, he could have all of them killed. Wouldn’t that be nice revenge after being sold into slavery by them 20 years ago?
The older brothers don’t know that they are dealing with Joseph. (They assumed he was killed when he was sold into slavery.) When the silver cup is discovered with Benjamin, Judah summons the courage to do what Katniss Everdeen did for her younger sister, Primrose, in the Hunger Games. Judah offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin so that the favored younger brother can return home to comfort his dying father. Judah has humbled himself, convinced that the rest of his life will be in slavery, since he was the mastermind behind selling Joseph into slavery.
But Joseph is overwhelmed. He is so overjoyed about the love Judah shows toward Benjamin, he has to leave the room to cry. Joseph reveals his identity in the next chapter and all threats of slavery are dropped. All is forgiven.
I’m curious about what prompted Judah’s change of heart. It isn’t explained in the scriptures. How did God transform him from a spoiled youth who had no regard for family to a middle-aged man willing to do whatever it would take to save another younger brother and bring honor to his father? Nothing short of a miracle. We believers today share with Judah a tendency to be blind toward our own sin. What we can learn from him is that it’s not wise to wait until our mistakes force us to admit wrongdoing. It is better to admit our mistakes, shoulder the blame, and seek forgiveness.
God worked on both their hearts separately for years. By the time he brought them back together under the circumstances of famine, Judah was ready to admit his mistakes and be humbled, and Joseph was ready to forgive. What a ripe time for a beautiful reconciliation.
Oh Heavenly Father,
Help me to move from bitterness and resentment to forgiving others. Open my eyes to my own errors, humble my heart, and give me the courage to speak out at the appropriate time. Amen.