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(This story is best read aloud.)
My name is Judah. My father's name is Jacob--that is, Israel. My mother's name is Leah, my father's FIRST wife. I have five brothers and a sister that all grew up in my mother's tent, two brothers by her serving girl, and then four other brothers from my father's second wife Rachel and her serving girl. But, enough about them.
I want to introduce my three older brothers--fine men. Reuben, he's all right, there's that time he seduced Rachel's serving girl. My dad was pretty angry, I don't see why. She's just a serving girl.
Simeon and Levi are pretty smart. I remember the time they convinced the men of Shechem to be circumcised. While they were still hurting, Simeon and Levi seized the opportunity and killed them all! I never did understand why my father was angry about that too. It seemed to me that they were just dealing with the people of the land in a wise way.
I'm next in line. Sometimes I think that I should be the firstborn because I think my ideas are pretty good. At least, they're better than the ones my brothers come up with. But my mother's sons are really OK after all--they're not like those sons of my father's second wife--Joseph and Benjamin. Benjamin, he's still pretty small. But that Joseph, none of us can stand him.
Why, do you know what he says? He says he has these dreams from God, dreams that we brothers are binding sheaves in the field--and our sheaves bowing down to his sheaf. The worst was a dream he had of the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bowing down to him. Our father Jacob couldn't take that one. He scolded him good. "Shall your mother and I and your brothers bow ourselves down on the ground to you?" Crazy seventeen-year-old! He needs to grow up.
He doesn't fit in with the rest of us. I mean, one time he didn't like what the rest of us were doing, and he ran off and told our father about it. Our father had no reason to know what we were doing. He was mad about it, but that Joseph should have joined in with the rest of us rather than thinking he was better and telling our father what we were doing. (It sounds like my father gets mad a lot at what we do, doesn't it? Aw, he's just old-fashioned. We know better than he does.'
What really makes me mad--it makes us all mad--is that our father really likes our eleventh brother Joseph. He treats him differently from the rest of us, even giving him a special coat that was of many colors. I hate Joseph. All of us do. Every time I see him, I get angry just thinking about what he has done and the way our father treats him. Why doesn't our father realize Joseph is the son of the SECOND wife. Six of us are sons of the FIRST wife, and two more by her serving girl. And Joseph is number eleven. Eleven! I need to stop talking about this or I'll get too angry to think straight.
Well, one day we had our chance. I couldn't believe it, it was just too good. The ten of us men--Joseph is such a boy, home with our father--the ten of us men were away from home with the sheep, and our father had sent Joseph to visit us. Joseph found us near Dothan with the sheep. I was exited. Here was our chance. If we killed him now, we could pretend he had never made it to us but that a wild animal had killed him. All ten of us men were pretty much in agreement--we all hated him so much--that we had about agreed to do it, except weak-willed Reuben, our oldest brother, wouldn't let us kill him right away. He said to throw Joseph in an empty hole nearby and just let him die slowly. We went along with his plan. I don't like Reuben's ideas sometimes.
Reuben went away for something, and then our chance came. We saw some businessmen on their way to Egypt. I told our brothers, "Let's not kill him--after all, he is our brother--but let's sell him to these businessmen and make some money." Everyone liked that idea because they knew that killing him wouldn't help us in any way. The money would come in handy. I look on it as I saved Joseph's life. Reuben, he wasn't too happy when he came back. Sometimes he acts just like our father Jacob.
We took that coat of his, the one of many colors and dipped it in the blood of a goat we killed that day and later showed it to our father. It convinced him that we hadn't done anything to Joseph, so he wasnˇ¦t angry with us. But he was really sad about not seeing Joseph again. Really sad. Really sad.
I was glad not to see the dreamer anymore!
Well, I couldn't concern myself with my father's sadness; I needed to get on with my own life. So, I moved to Adullam, and started my own family. I know--my great-grandfather made sure his son married someone from outside Canaan. My grandfather was mad that my uncle married women of the land--Hittites and Ishmaelites--and my father married my mother Leah (and her sister) outside of Canaan. I decided I wouldn't follow the example of my ancestors--I would marry a girl from nearby--a Canaanite. And we had a son. A son! I called him Er! And then we had a second son Onan and a third son Shelah. I was really proud to have these sons. As soon as I could, I found a wife for Er--her name was Tamar. . . nice girl.
And then Er died. God killed him.
It's proper for the second son to marry the first son's widow, so I arranged for Onan to marry Tamar. He didn't . . . I mean . . .he had his own ideas about things . . .I don't know why he didn't go through with it. God killed him too.
Then I had just one one little boy left--Shelah. I didn't want to rush things, you know, with both of his brothers . . .dead. I told Tamar to go live in her father's house, and later I would arrange a marriage to Shelah.
Tragedy hit my family again--my dear wife died. My two sons; my wife. Well, I went to Timnah with the worker-what would keep me at home?
You know, along the road, I saw the most interesting woman. She covered her face like a harlot . . .and my wife is dead . . .so it wouldn't be adultery . . .and I'm away from home so there wonˇ¦t be any consequences, you know what I mean. She was attractive, but she drove a hard bargain. She wanted me to give her a small goat, but I didn't have one with me, so I gave her my seal and my staff and my cord to prove I would get the goat to her later. And I did try to send a goat to her, but no one could find her.
I don't know what happened. Everything seems to go wrong for me. How was I to know? Later, I noticed that Tamar--who was supposed to marry my third son--was pregnant. I was furious! "Burn her!" I said.
Then something happened that I think changed my life forever. She showed me things given to her by the father of the child: my seal, my staff, my cord. I was the one who had slept with a married woman.
She was more righteous than I. I should have arranged the marriage to little Shelah. I didnˇ¦t. Now she was pregnant with my child--actually twins--so children. She had done less wrong than I had.
I had tried to live by my own plans, and now here I am, my wife is dead, two sons are dead, my third son cannot marry the first son's wife because she is now pregnant with my children, but I cannot marry her because she is my daughter-in-law. What a mess I have brought on myself.
And I wonder what is happening to Joseph? Is he in Egypt? Is he all right? How did my suggestion to sell him end up?
And my father? Can I go back and face him? He is probably still very sad.
Well, life has its realities. We have to work because we have to eat. And the weather changed. We just ran out of food. There was nothing to eat. But we heard that in Egypt there was food!
My father urged us to go to Egypt, and the ten of us brothers did. Of course, Benjamin, son of my father's second wife, stayed home with him. He wouldn't want anything to happen to him.
In Egypt, we were foreigners. I didn't quite understand all that was going on there. We didn't get to see Pharaoh, but we were taken to see another man. A very harsh man. He accused us of being spies. Really, we didn't do anything out of the ordinary. And no matter what we said, he still called us spies. Somehow we tried to defend ourselves by talking about our family, but that was a mistake. He said we had to prove our words by bringing our youngest brother with us the next time we came. Why? I couldn't understand that.
And then, to make sure we would come again, he put all of us in jail and said one of us had to go back home and bring Benjamin. Those were three horrible days. Finally, he let us out and said he would keep only Simeon and the rest of us could go home, but we had to bring Benjamin back. I didn't know what we would do.
We talked pretty freely among ourselves even in front of the Egyptians because we knew they couldn't understand our language. Reuben reminded us of how Joseph had begged us not to sell him to Egypt. I wish now that we hadn't. I think all these things are happening to me because of our--my--sinful plan.
And it got worse. When we were on our way home, we looked in our sacks, and found the money that we had brought to pay for the food. Oh no. Now the Egyptians would call us thieves.
My father is sad. Very sad.
My wife is dead.
My two sons are dead.
One brother is in Egypt in jail.
A very harsh man says that if we want to buy more food, we have to bring Benjamin on this very dangerous journey.
And now he will be angry with us because he didn't get our money.
What is God doing to us? What is God doing to me?
My father took it as I expected. "Joseph is gone; Simeon is gone; now you want Benjamin too?"
Reuben offered to kill his own two sons if Benjamin didn't make it back alive. My father was not moved.
We tried to wait as long as we could not to go back to Egypt. We couldn't convince my father to let us take Benjamin. Finally, I said, "If I don't bring Benjamin back, you can kill me." What else could I say?
We were worried about the attitude of that harsh man--so my father gave us gifts to give to him--the best things of the land. And we took double the money--the money we had found in our sacks and then what the food would cost. And our father prayed that God would deliver Simeon and protect Benjamin to come home safely.
This time was different. The harsh man met us one place and then acted strangely. He then told us to meet him at his house. We were worried that the man would attack us there because he was angry that we hadnˇ¦t paid any money the first time. We quickly told the harsh man's manager that we had found the money and were glad to pay it. We didn't want any trouble, you know. The funny thing was the manager said he had already gotten our money. I don't know--we were confused.
At the house, the servants washed our feet and fed our animals--we were treated like guests. It was strange! And then Simeon came in--it was great to see him! And then the harsh man came and said very odd things:
How is your father?
Is this your brother?
And then he ran from the room! We couldn't understand what was going on. We waited quite a while until he came back and then we ate together. I mean, we ate at the same time. Egyptians don't like to eat with us, so they ate at one table and we ate at another. Someone told us where to sit, and they had us sit in the exact order of our birth. Ten brothers--how did they know the order of our birth? And Benjamin--he was given five times as much food as we were! Unbelievable!
We didn't know whether to be happy or sad. This treatment was too good to be true so we just kept waiting for the ax to fall.
And it did.
We left the next morning very early, and along the way some horsemen caught up with us and accused us of stealing the harsh man's silver cup. I was mad. All of us were. We had tried so hard to return the money that we had found in our sacks; we had brought money to pay for this second purchase of food; why would we steal one silver cup?
"If you find it, the man whose sack it is in will die, and the rest of us will be your servants!" We knew no one of us had stolen the cup!
They started with Reuben, the oldest's, bag and checked all of ours. And then they found the cup . . . in Benjamin's bag. We were lost. We were lost! What could we do!
We all went back to the harsh man's office and he scolded us and scolded us. I didn't know what to say. I finally took the opportunity to explain how our father loves Benjamin the most and that I had promised with my life to protect Benjamin no matter what. I begged and begged.
I didn't dare look up at the harsh man's face, but then I heard him shout something in Egyptian. It was strange that all the Egyptians then left the room. And he was alone with the eleven of us. He cried and cried--really loudly. I didn't know what to think. And then I heard in our language--Hebrew--in our dialect--the words "I am Joseph." I didn't understand what he was saying. "How is our father? I am Joseph that you sold into Egypt." It didn-t make sense. One minute we were afraid of death because of a silver cup, and now we were seeing someone claiming to be Joseph--the person we had sold into Egypt--now in the second most powerful position in Egypt. I couldn't say a word. What would Joseph do to us now? What revenge would he take? What were we to do?
What was God doing in my life?
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