Thursday, May 21, 2009

What We Hold Back

Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin . . . because he was afraid that harm might come to him (Genesis 42:3).

Jacob had already lost one son. He wouldn’t risk losing another.

More than two decades had passed since Joseph’s tattered and bloody garment had been returned to Jacob. The grief that followed was deep and long. But time had done what time is able to do in such matters. Jacob still felt the loss, but the weeping was far less frequent. The invisible wound left when Joseph had been ripped from him was still tender. It was an ache that had become familiar to Jacob’s soul and he had learned how to live with it.

Rachel had given birth to another son: Benjamin. It seems that one of the ways Jacob had coped with the loss of Joseph was by directing special affection toward Benjamin. Now a grown man, Ben remained the baby of the family.

Thus, when it came time to go to Egypt in search of grain, only ten of the brothers packed and made ready for the trip. Jacob would not send Benjamin. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He had sent Joseph on an errand and never got him back. This time, Jacob would guard his heart by keeping the beloved son at home.

When the ten brothers finally arrived in Egypt and found themselves standing before the Pharaoh’s second in command, their brother’s absence was noted. They didn’t know Joseph, but Joseph knew them and he saw that someone was missing. Joseph interrogated them, threatened them, and finally cut a deal. The ten could have the grain they needed but they would have to return to Egypt again, this time with the absent brother (Genesis 42:14-20).


The losses we suffer in life have a way of making us cautious. We guard the place where pain was inflicted. If the pain came because we dared to love someone, we are slow to love again. If the hurt was dealt to us because we trusted someone’s word, we begin to assume that most people are liars.

In the life of faith this means that there are parts of life that we are reluctant to place in God’s care. Like Jacob, we keep the cherished child at home. We believe in God, but we’d like for God to keep his distance when it comes to this part of who we are: our children, our love life, our business decisions. We hold something back. Having been hurt or let down once, we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But quite often, that very part of life is the part that God requires of us. The place where we are tempted to think God failed us is the place where God most desires to prove his faithfulness to us.

When Jacob finally loosened his grip on Benjamin, he found Joseph again. As Jacob relinquished the one, God gave him two.

What are you holding back today?

I want to place every part of my life in your care, O God. I would hold nothing back – and yet my fears of what might happen and my regrets over what has happened in the past keep me clutching to pieces of my life. Grant me grace to trust you, knowing that only open hands can receive your good gifts. Amen.

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