As chapter 42 of Genesis comes to a close, Jacob’s sons arrive at their father’s tent with grain but without their brother, Simeon, who remained imprisoned in Egypt. They report to their father all the events of their encounter with the Egyptian Prime Minister saying that he spoke to them harshly and accused them of being spies. They cautiously tell Jacob that the Egyptian demanded they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, as proof that they were not spies. Jacob adamantly refuses. You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me. (Gen. 42:36)
Time goes on, Simeon languishes in the Egyptian prison and the famine continues. The provisions which the brothers brought back are dwindling. Concerned for the welfare of his family, Jacob tells his sons to go again to Egypt to buy food. Judah steps forward and reminds his father of the Egyptian’s request and gives his word that he will personally take responsibility for returning Benjamin home. Jacob finally relented and instructed his sons to take with them gifts for the Egyptian so that he will be persuaded to release Simeon and Benjamin as well. He concludes with these pessimistic words: And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. (Gen. 43:14)
During his life Jacob has suffered some difficult moments. For seven years he worked for the right to marry Rachel only to have his father-in-law trick him on his wedding night and switch Rachel for Leah. Later Rachel remains barren for years while Leah regularly presents Jacob with sons. When Rachel finally gives birth to Joseph, Jacob is wildly delighted. And when she then becomes pregnant again, his joy knows no bounds, but that joy quickly turns to deep sorrow as Rachel dies in childbirth. Benjamin joins Joseph as Jacob’s favorites. Faced now with the possibility of losing Benjamin he is utterly desolate. Jacob never stopped believing in the God of Israel; but his experiences weakened his faith in God’s personal involvement in his life.
We cannot condemn Jacob for we are just like him.
When prayers seem to go unanswered or unexpected tragedy befalls us, what is our response? Do we, like Jacob, fall victim to depression rather than maintaining a living faith?
Biblical faith is a channel of trust from our heart to God. That does not mean that we must deny our feelings and emotions but that we must not judge God by them! Biblical faith means that when we cannot understand why certain things happen, we are nevertheless convinced that God does – and that He has our best interest at heart whether or not we can see it at the moment.
Biblical faith trusts Him because of WHO he is, not because of WHAT or HOW He does. Our emotions do not dictate our faith; our faith rules our emotions. We have come to believe and are persuaded of what Jeremiah proclaimed: For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good, to give you a future and a hope..’ Jeremiah 29:11
We accept with humility what Isaiah wrote: His ways are not our ways; nor are His thoughts are thoughts. Isaiah 55:8
We have come to understand that God does not exist for us; we exist for Him. He does not sit in the heavens to pamper us or jump at our every whim. We are privileged to know and serve Him; not the other way around. It is one thing to acknowledge that God exists; agnostics do that. It is entirely something else to trust Him with every aspect of our lives, knowing His heart towards us and that His plan is perfect, regardless of what we may think at any given moment.
Neither the brothers nor Jacob had any understanding on that day of what God was up to. They had no clue that the ‘harsh Egyptian’ was in fact, their very own brother, nor that the God of Israel was working out His plan to save not only Jacob but all of his descendants through the present circumstances which they found so stressful.
Faith perseveres when understanding fails, but ONLY when our faith is grounded firmly in WHO GOD IS and we are convinced to the core of our being of His love and His perfect plan for our lives.
It serves us well to remember that this life is at best temporary but an eternal world awaits us. When we get there, it will be our undying trust in the Holy One of Israel that will be our glory. Biblical faith ‘sees’ beyond the circumstances or unexpected events and cries out with David, ‘ I will bless the LORD at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’ Psalm 34:1