Can you imagine Jacob’s torment? Can you imagine the pain he must have felt, when his sons returned to his tent, the day they sold their brother Joseph into slavery? He thought his son was dead, and the pain nearly killed him. It aged him overnight.
I wonder how much greater his pain would have been, had he known what really happened to Joseph? Do you think he ever suspected foul play at the hands of his older sons? Do you ponder whether Jacob ever doubted the validity of what his ten oldest sons claimed had happened to Joseph? The bible doesn’t say for sure, but I reckon Jacob suspected more than he let on. Yet, as in most dysfunctional families, too often, there are just some things that are too painful to be spoken out loud.
Jacob must have known how much his other sons hated Joseph, for they had made no attempt to hide it from anyone. They openly mocked him at every turn, and their jealousy of Joseph was evident to all. It must have seemed dubious to Jacob, when Joseph turned up dead, after he sent him to check up on his brothers. After all, he knew full well, when he sent Joseph to them, how angry they already were with Joseph. After all, hadn’t Joseph given their father a bad report about them, just days earlier? And what about the beautiful robe Jacob had given to Joseph? It was the same robe his ten older brothers later returned to Jacob, covered with blood. Their rancor towards their brother had known no bounds, when Jacob rewarded Joseph with that beautiful robe. Indeed, Jacob had made it abundantly clear, over and over again, that Joseph was his favorite son, which caused their loathing for Joseph to burn even deeper.
Yet, as in most dysfunctional families, they ignored the proverbial “elephant in the room,” and no one ever addressed the issue. The ten eldest sons never spoke directly to their father about the pain he had caused them, in showing favoritism towards Joseph. Instead, they allowed their bitterness to fester, turning into a poison that blackened their souls, until their hearts turned violent.
Indeed, this wasn’t the first time that these ten sons of Jacob had turned violent. They had slaughtered and plundered an entire town, after a man named Shechem, the prince of that town, raped their sister, Dinah. True, what Shechem had done was evil, but what these ten sons of Jacob had done, was no less evil. For they had tricked the men into believing that they had forgiven Shechem, and they would allow him to marry their sister, Dinah, if he, and his entire town would be circumcised.
Eager to make amends and marry Dinah, Shechem, and his father, King Hamor, agreed to the deal, and when they met with their council, they agreed too. Therefore, all of the men in that community were circumcised. Then, three days later, while all of the men were still in great pain from their circumcisions, the ten eldest sons of Jacob attacked and killed every single male, and afterwards, they took all of the town’s livestock, and enslaved the women and children who remained.
Yes, Jacob surely knew the violence his oldest sons were capable of, but, again, like the proverbial elephant in the room, he didn’t discuss his suspicions with them, because to actually hear the truth spoken aloud was too much for him to contemplate. And now, as famine swept across the land, Jacob worried about his family’s fate. There was no grain to be obtained in all of Canaan, but he had heard that there was grain available in the land of Egypt, so he assembled all of his remaining sons, and had a family meeting.
“We’re going to starve if we don’t get some grain,” Jacob spoke bluntly to his sons, who exchanged glances with one another, but said nothing. “Why are you standing around looking at one another?” he asked impatiently. “You know what I say is true. However, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Therefore, I want you to go down there and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise, we’ll all die.”
“You’re right Abba,” Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son, replied. “We must go to Egypt right away. Come brothers, let’s pack up and leave for Egypt at first light tomorrow.”
“NO!” Jacob shouted. “Benjamin, you will stay with me, and your brothers will go to Egypt.
“But Abba,” Benjamin protested.
“NO!” Jacob shouted once again, as he fought the panic that boiled up within him. His heart pounded loudly in his ears as he drew a shuddering breath, trying to slow his heart rate, and speak calmly. “No, my son,” Jacob repeated. “This is a job for your older brothers to handle. You must stay with me.”
Benjamin looked closely at his father, and noted the terror in his eyes. Then he knelt down beside Jacob, and gently hugged him. “Alright Abba,” he whispered softly. “I will obey and stay here with you.”
Jacob’s oldest sons exchanged guilty glances with one another, for they, too, had seen the fear and pain in their father’s eyes, and they knew that they were the cause of his agony. Though no one said a word, once again ignoring the elephant in the room, the brothers knew that Jacob wouldn’t allow Benjamin to travel alone with them, for fear they might harm him, just as they had harmed Joseph.
Both Jacob and his ten eldest sons felt guilty. Yet, still, they didn’t speak of what they had done. Each was trapped in his own torment, and it seemed there was no hope for redemption. Each one was a captive of a moment that had long since passed. Jacob was trapped in the moment when he had chosen to love Joseph more than all of his other sons. In doing so, he had rejected their love as insignificant. His rejected sons were trapped in the moment, when they had taken their anger out on the wrong person, their brother, Joseph, rather than confronting their father for neglecting to love them as a father should. They were all, utterly without hope.
Yet, in the midst of all this turmoil and anguish, El Shaddai had a plan. It was time for each one, Jacob and every one of his sons, to face the elephant in the room, and address it once and for all.
Cheryl A. Showers