43 1 The famine lay heavy in the land. 2 When they had eaten up all the grain they brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Return and buy us some food.”
3 Judah said to him, “The man warned us—warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you agree to send our brother with us, then we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you don’t agree to send him, then we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
6 Israel said, “Why have you done me such harm by telling the man you had another brother?”
7 They said, “The man asked and asked about ourselves and our kindred: ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have a brother?’ Finally, we told him just what we reported. Could we know he’d say, ‘Bring down your brother?’
8 Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me. We will arise and go, so that we may live and not die—we, you, and our children. 9 I will act as the guarantor of his safety; you can hold me responsible for any loss. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here in your presence, I will bear the blame for all the days. 10 If we had not lingered so long, we could have returned twice already.”
11 Israel, their father, said to them, “If must be, then do this: take some of the best of the land and bring down to the man a gift of balm, balsam, and ladanum, honey, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Double the silver you take in your hand, and the silver returned in the mouth of your sacks for it might have been a mistake. 13 And … your brother … take him. Arise, go back to the man, and 14 may El Shaddai give you mercy before the man so that he releases to you your other brother and Benjamin with you. As for me, if I must lose my children, I will lose my children.”
As could be expected in a famine, it does not quickly leave; what provisions can be gathered are too soon gone. Hunger can override caution. Jacob finally recognizes that matters are dire—there is no choice but to return to the one place that still has food available, Egypt, where Simeon is still imprisoned.
Upon hearing Jacob’s instructions to return to Egypt for more food, Judah brings up the awkward reality that Benjamin is key to a return for more food. For Judah and his brothers, this is not a nicety, but the very real question of their own freedom. Without Benjamin, they face either dungeon or death or both.
Israel whines and blames his sons for revealing the presence of Benjamin in a moment of danger for them. As one, the brothers defend their response based on the narrowness of Joseph’s questions—as though he knew the trap he was setting for them. How could they know that Benjamin would be the detail the Grain Seller would focus on?
Judah notes the situation and offers to be the guilt-bearer should anything untoward happen to Benjamin. He also recognizes they could have been back, twice over, had they initially done what was commanded to release brother Simeon.
Again, implacable hunger removes arguments. The choices narrow down to one. Israel accedes to Judah; Benjamin is released.
Once this decision is reached, Israel can again live in the gift of mystery as he did after his vision at the ramp. Mercy is, again, a live basis on which to live. Every attempt to control our outcome is a denial of trust in mercy.
This decision not only restores mercy to a primary place in dealings with choices but adds the blessing of humble resignation—que sera sera—that invites risk based on necessity as well as a promise of a future beyond self—that of multiplying “seed” for days ahead.