“Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.“ -Genesis 42:3-4
There is a tremendous amount of psychological complexity baked into Genesis 42 that would take volumes to unearth.
If I was to choose one theme word that would effectively capture the essence of Jacob’s family situation, I would say “favoritism“.
It was Jacob’s “favoritism” for Joseph that brought about furious envy from his brothers leading to him being sold into slavery.
It was also fear of Joseph’s favoritism being extended to Rachel’s handmaid Bilah that caused Reuben to sleep with Bilah in a move to gain family power. (Remember Reuben was born from Leah, the unwanted wife.)
I have first-hand experience with this kind of ugly favoritism in my family.
My parents divorced when I was three and my father remarried (my mom never remarried).
According to the divorce court ruling, I was to live with my mom during the school year but would stay with my father during the 3-month long summer vacations.
My relationship with my dad and his new wife was fine in the beginning.
My stepmother treated me like her own flesh-and-blood son and said she loved me.
But then her first child was born, and then another, and then another one after that.
From that point on, I knew something had changed.
I felt threatened by the new born arrivals and somehow sensed that my position as the “favored” son was about to be displaced.
As the years went by, my fears turned out to be right, tenfold.
The last time I had dinner with my father, he told me the biggest mistake he ever made in his life was marrying my mother.
And I have noticed over the years in so many subtle and not so subtle ways that the “favoritism” my father had (and still has) for his 2nd wife was passed on to his new children, my step-siblings.
In a similar fashion, Jacob favored Rachel over Leah.
And likewise, we saw how Jacob doted over Rachel’s first-born child Joseph to no end.
However, after Joseph was sold into slavery, we now see that same “favoritism” being directed towards Rachel’s second child Benjamin.
Here’s the last sentence of Genesis 42:
“My son will not go down there with you;
his brother is dead and he is the only one left.
If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking,
you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
Note that Jacob, in referring to Benjamin, is saying “my son“.
Well, heck, what about his other sons who might have been starving for love and affection from their only father?!
In English we have a saying “blood is thicker than water“.
It means allegiance should ALWAYS remain with the family first, and outside acquaintences second.
I believe the Bible is against this idea.
The Scripture makes it clear that allegiance to YHVH comes first.
God looks down on unwarranted favoritism and there are countless examples in Scripture demonstrating that God is no respecter of persons.
The way He disciplines His people and in some cases outright disowns some of them is a perfect example showing that God judges us on our own merits.
God warns us against putting human relationships above him, and often these warnings are directed against that most basic and strongest of all institutions, the family.