The final test
Joseph demanded that his brothers endure one last test to see what kind of men they had become. Obeying Joseph’s demands, they brought their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt with them to buy more food so their families can survive the famine. The mission is successful. As his brothers are preparing to leave Egypt bearing all the food they can carry, Joseph has his servants hide a silver goblet from his own table in Benjamin’s bag. This is a rather wicked trick and one that would be worthy of Jacob, the father. Joseph has thought about his revenge for a long while. Like the Cylons, he has a plan.
The brothers are very happy. They had been tense and nervous returning to Egypt, but everything had gone so well. They had food and seemingly, the good will of one of the Pharaoh’s top men. Joyful and at ease, the brothers set off on their return journey, but they barely had left the city gates when they were overtaken by Joseph’s men. These men accused the brothers of stealing the silver goblet. They were stunned. Here’s the exchange:
‘Why did you repay good with evil? Why did you steal the silver goblet from me? It is the very one from which my master drinks and which he uses for divination. What you have done is wrong.’” When the steward overtook them and repeated these words to them, they remonstrated with him: “How can my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the money that we found in the mouths of our bags. Why, then, would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have the goblet, he shall die, and as for the rest of us, we shall become my lord’s slaves.” But he replied, “Even though it ought to be as you propose, only the one who is found to have it shall become my slave, and the rest of you shall be exonerated.”
Then they all submitted to searches for they all knew there was no chance the goblet rested among their possessions. But lo and behold, it was found in Benjamin’s bag.
Look at the position where Joseph has placed the older brothers. It’s rather ingenious, don’t you think? Before they knew about the goblet, the brothers make the offer to enslave all of them if only one is guilty, but Joseph’s steward declines. This is certainly to put them to the test. If they are all enslaved, it would do nothing to test their honor, but if they have an opportunity to leave Benjamin and save their own skins then they must make a choice. That choice will decide what kind of men they are.
The brothers wailed, tore their clothes and threw themselves on the ground at Joseph’s feet, begging for forgiveness. They again demand slavery for all to pay this debt, but Joseph forces them to choose between Benjamin and themselves. Far be it for him to enslave everyone, just the one who “took” the goblet.
Judah asks for leave to explain the situation and Joseph agrees. He explains how his father loves this boy beyond the rest and nearly refused to allow him to take this trip. He also tells of how this boy’s full brother was presumed to be eaten by wild animals. Joseph must have loved the irony of that statement. But Judah tells more of what the loss of Benjamin would do to Jacob.
If you now take this one away from me too, and some disaster befalls him, you will send my white head down to the nether world in grief.’ “If then the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, whose very life is bound up with his, he will die as soon as he sees that the boy is missing; and your servants will thus send the white head of our father down to the nether world in grief. Besides, I, your servant, got the boy from his father by going surety for him, saying, ‘If I fail to bring him back to you, father, you can hold it against me forever.’
And then he does something truly noble.
Look at this! It’s an actual moral lesson in the Bible! What the hell’s it doing in here? In a universe of righteousness where people protect their god by throwing their daughters to rapists, where a god destroys whole cities who aren’t listening to his every whim, how does a tale this ethical arise? Chance, pure chance! Amid the drivel, there’s bound to be one wholesome story. It’s just a matter of harvesting the right one. Darwin knows, it’s been slim pickings for quite a while.
The bothers passed the test, so Joseph reveals himself. There is much weeping. The Pharaoh finds out and offers Joseph’s kin the “best land in Egypt” and instructs them all to emigrate. The brothers are showered with gifts, wagons and provisions and sent to get their families. Jacob, at first confused then overjoyed, determines to see his long-lost son one more time. In the midst of the famine, they emigrate to Goshen
There is one bothersome part in this, and as the readers are aware ,I have made it my duty to root through troublesome areas, so bear with me. After he reveals himself but before the brothers have had any time to ponder the momentous events, Joseph says:
But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you. For two years now the famine has been in the land, and for five more years tillage will yield no harvest. God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So it was not really you but God who had me come here; and he has made of me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.
There’s a lot here in these few sentences so lets tease them apart. ”It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.” Here we return to the argument that Yahweh created a famine and then tried to protect some people from it. What a ass backwards way of directing things. Does he have some pathological need to be a hero? Does he need to be needed? If he truly wants people to honor him, why not start with not being such a jackass all the time. It’d be a good first step.
The next argument is that the brothers didn’t actually sin because they were doing God’s will? Huh? Are these not the same defenses used by apologists of Judas? Yet, he was doomed to hell, while Jacob’s sons were forgiven. Why? Joseph claims their crime follows God’s purpose in saving the lives of people, but was not Judas’s purpose any less important? Was he not filling one of God’s essential roles? Without Judas, the entire tale of Christ’s death and claimed resurrection either would not have happened or have happened differently. Ah, how we could pleasantly daydream about that forever.
Many of these arguments come down to free will. Again! This is among the weakest points of the theist argument and we will never leave it alone for long. God cannot have complicated plans that involve humanity,yet leave people free to choose their own way. If God knew those brothers were going to sell Joseph, then their free will in the matter was, at the very least, suppressed. Either an interfering God exists or free will exists. But never both! I know which gets my vote. How about you?
I, too, have heard the argument that God knows all possible paths everyone can take in an infinite number of slightly divergent universes. Therefore, people are free to choose and God just tracks all of the choices. This idea has been brought forth by commenters on this very site and it is one of the few ways to further the hard core theists points. I fully understand why it is quite attractive to believer’s minds, for it allows the entire argument to be lost in the mists of some quasi-scientific theory which everyone has a difficult time understanding. The notion of God lurks in the hidden recesses inherent in such an amorphous idea.
But look closer. If God is aware of everyone wandering through their infinite lives exercising their full free will, can someone please tell me where the “plan” is. I always hear about God’s plan, especially when bad things happen to good people. My best friend died a few years ago after an incredibly painful illness. I heard, ad infinitum,that it was all part of God’s plan. God needed him. Why? Was he building a deck? Doing some remodeling to the heavenly palaces? Need a jump-start on his pick-up? How could God possibly need him any more than his family did? How can an omnipotent God “need” anything?
It’s this mysterious plan that irks me the most. When a little girl gets brutally raped and murdered, is that part of the Plan? Where’s God’s plan when another girl gets sick and perishes after months of agonized life? To what divine strategy do we owe the collapse of an apartment building on a third girl who dies days later of starvation and thirst? Why does the plan look exactly like callous chance mixed with human brutality? Where the hell is God in this? I’ve looked but cannot see him anywhere.
Do you know why? Because he’s not. Anywhere! Ever!