BIBLE STUDY ON GENESIS: Why our prayers are not always answered! — Fr. Joseph Edattu VC

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Author: Cecil Kim Esgana   28 May 2022


In a Bible Study about the life of Joseph in the Old Testament, we reflected about his 9 brothers, excluding Simeon who was imprisoned by Joseph in Egypt. We studied each chapter and each word. These 9 brothers came back thinking they could convince their father Jacob to allow them to take Benjamin with them to Egypt so that Joseph, the Egyptian Prime Minister, whom they did not recognize as yet, would give them enough food for their survival. This was what they expected. Would Jacob give permission to his sons to take Benjamin with them.

Let us reflect what happened from Genesis 43:1 onwards. So, they collected the food and came back to Jacob and they had enough food at least for around a year or at least for that season. “Now the famine was severe in the land.” They had brought a lot of food; a lot of grain and now all the grain was over. [Genesis 43:2], “And when they had eaten up the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little more food.” This means they waited a long time. They even forgot about their brother Simeon who was in prison in Egypt. Although most probably it was more like a house arrest, and there was no doubt that he was well taken care of.

Well, how do we know that Simeon was well taken care of or not? Simple. Joseph loved his brothers and Simeon was his own brother. So, Joseph must have made sure he was given good treatment. That’s the reason he had no complaints when his brothers failed to return as soon as possible to take him back. Actually, Simeon must have been enjoying his time there as Joseph must have ordered the best treatment to be given to Simeon. Though Jacob and his children thought Simeon was in prison, yet they did not return immediately, because Jacob was not willing to send Benjamin his favourite son with the other brothers. Jacob was tough, but he was also partial towards Benjamin and Joseph, who were his children with Rachel whom he loved.

Actually, Jacob must have thought it was not necessary to return to Egypt. He may have assumed that the famine would last only for about a year and after that they could have their own food supply again. And so instead of allowing Benjamin to go to an uncertain fate in Egypt he must have preferred Simeon to remain in the prison in Egypt forever. But when Joseph had sent his brothers back, he knew that the famine would continue for seven years because he was informed by God. He knew that one of these years his brothers would come back. Joseph was 100% sure. And so, it happened as Joseph surmised. We read in, [Genesis 43:2] “And when they had eaten up the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little more food.” Why a little more? It’s because Jacob again thought that the famine would continue perhaps for another year. He didn’t know that the famine would last six more years But Joseph knew this.

[Genesis 43:3] “But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’  As though he said, “If you are not ready to give Benjamin, then how can we go? The Prime Minister of Egypt told us, unless your brother is with us, we cannot see his face. He won’t give us food.” This was how Judah argued with his father. Imagine, they collected the food from Egypt and started consuming the food. They did not go back immediately to Egypt, until almost a year had passed and the food supply was over. In this waiting period, Jacob had already made up his mind that he would never ever send Benjamin to Egypt. Secondly, he must have prayed earnestly that the famine would be over soon. He also must have prayed for Simeon to be set free from the prison, because after all he was his son. He must have also prayed that he didn’t have to send Benjamin to Egypt. These are the three prayers which Jacob made: The famine should be over. Simeon should return safely; and Benjamin would not have to go to Egypt. But we know now that his prayers were not answered according to his will. The famine did not get over. Simeon was still in jail. And, Benjamin had to go to Egypt. 

Sometime our prayers are not answered as we want them to be answered. We may feel our prayers were useless. But in fact, it is because God has a higher plan which we don’t realize at that moment. Jacob did not realize that the famine would not be a problem from his family. He did not know that his son, Joseph, was in charge of Egypt. He didn’t realize that Simeon was well looked after and perhaps even happy to be there. He didn’t realize that when Benjamin goes to Egypt, he would be the happiest person in the world. He didn’t realize that one day, sooner or later, his whole family would be moving and settling in Egypt. He didn’t realize these things. He simply thought that his prayers were in vain. He must have questioned God, ‘Where are you God? Why are you not listening to my prayers?’ Sometimes, we also think like that. But usually, God has an entirely different plan for us, which is beyond our imagination. After a while, we will see this big plan of God unfold in our lives.

Several months later Jacob came to know his son Joseph was in charge of Egypt. Now the whole family was settled in Egypt. Jacob must have never imagined such a happy conclusion to the crisis. His heart must have been overflowing with thanksgiving for God for everything. Every prayer that we make today has got an answer—perhaps, not in the way we want. God has his own plans and God’s plan is always the best plan. What was the best plan according to Jacob? He planned to have enough food to survive the famine. He didn’t want his sons to go back to Egypt. In this way he thought he could save Benjamin. If he couldn’t get back Simeon, so be it. It was a closed chapter. He had already lost Joseph. So at least he could save Benjamin. This was Jacob’s plan. 

Human plans are like that. Even if you are brilliant, you plans can fail and turn out to be foolish. Jacob was a brilliant man. He was very intelligent. He was one of those people who had completed Business Management in the Bible. He was a shrewd businessman who defeated his father-in-law in business. We all know about this history. He was almost like an MBA graduate but even then, this business plan did not work out according to his calculations. His calculations were meaningless. On the other hand, God had his own plans, but he was not aware of it. Only later he came to know that God’s plan was the most successful plan. What did God’s plan result in? He got back his lost son, Joseph. He got back Simeon, who was in the prison. Benjamin was not only safe but also the most favoured person for the Egyptian Prime Minister. He also took the whole family and settled them in the best environment in Egypt. They had more than enough food for all the seven years of the famine. It was an unimaginable blessing!

Are you praying seriously and feel your prayers are not answered? Don’t worry. That is because God has got a better plan—the best plan. An unimaginable plan beyond your imagination. You just need to be patient enough to go through this crisis of having to move to Egypt, just as it had happened to Jacob and his family. 

[Genesis 43:4] “If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food;” This was the condition: Jacob must allow Benjamin to go with his brothers and then only they would go to Egypt. Why was he not allowing Benjamin to go with them? Jacob had lost confidence in his sons because every time they went somewhere, one son would go missing. The first time, he lost Joseph. The second time, he lost Simeon. Now Benjamin could be lost. Jacob had no confidence in his sons because of this. He did not want to send his (last born) son, Benjamin.

[Genesis 43:5], “but if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘you shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Again, he is repeating the same statement. Most probably, he must have repeated this statement throughout that year because almost one year had passed since they started consuming the grains from Egypt. As the stock of grains were being reduced, they must have been thinking about going back. But each time, Jacob was blocking it. Whenever Jacob refused, they used to repeat this statement. That’s why this statement, in this bible passage itself, has been repeated twice. That means, they may have repeated it practically every day in front of Jacob.

[Genesis 43:6] Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” Now this is another statement that as an old man he must have repeated many times that year. Why did they have to tell the Prime Minister that they were 12 brothers? They could have told him there’s only 11 of them and one is already no more. Why did they tell him they had another brother? Jacob who was a liar himself was encouraging his children to lie. That’s why I said, Jacob is a man of deception. But still God used him. God can use anyone. See, God is allowing him to go through this turmoil and struggle, which Abraham and Isaac never went through because they were both holy. They were not people of deception. But this man Jacob was going through turmoil, crisis and struggle because he was yet to be purified. God, too, is purifying us. There are people who are very good, who may not be going through the crisis that we are going through. Maybe there is something in us that God wants to purify.

[Genesis 43:7-8] They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these. Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me, and let us be on our way, so that we may live and not die—you and we and also our little ones.” If you don’t send Benjamin, Judah speaks to his father, all of us would die. If you send Benjamin, none of us would die. You decide. 

[Genesis 43:9] I myself will be surety for him; you can hold me accountable for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.” Judah was taking full responsibility for Benjamin. Jesus comes from this family of Judah.

[Genesis 43:10] If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.” That means, they had taken a long time. It’s as if Judah said, “if we had gone earlier, we could have gone and come back twice already. It’s only because of Jacob they were delayed. Now, we are too late. Still, if we go, make sure to allow Benjamin to go with us.

[Genesis 43:11] Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry them down as a present to the man—a little balm and a little honey, gum, resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds.” Jacob said, “if it must be so.” Now he is trying to bribe because he had such an experience some time back when he had a problem with Esau. He was going back to his family, and when he came to know his brother Esau was coming, he was afraid and immediately prepared many gifts for him. He prepared and sent them before him. He ordered his servants to collect all these, and offer them to Esau, and tell him, “Your servant Jacob gave you these. All these belong to you. It is yours.” Then Esau relented. Esau, who came to attack Jacob, became calm and a good person. He came and hugged Jacob. So, Jacob knows that sometimes bribery works because he already had an experience about it. Jacob then sends Benjamin but makes sure that they take some special gifts and give it to him so that he may have mercy on them. Jacob gave the best of all these things and then they went.

[Genesis 43:12] Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the top of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight.” All ten of them were going. Simeon was in jail and Joseph was the Prime Minister. So, the rest of the brothers, all ten of them went to Egypt. “Double money” means 20 (because there were ten of them). The word money and silver are the same. So, 20 is connected to something. Their brother Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver coins. Now, Jacob was asking his children to take 20, meaning double money. It is connected. Whatever we have committed, will come back to us. We may have to repeat the same thing. 

When Jesus selected Peter and the disciples, they were casting their net. They were fishing the whole night but they didn’t get anything. So, then Jesus says, don’t worry, cast the net on one side. And then they got enough fishes and more. And then Peter knelt down and said, ‘I’m a sinner please leave me.’ Then Jesus said, follow me. That’s how Jesus called Peter. Later when Jesus died, Peter invited the other disciples to go fishing again because that’s the only work that he knew. They went fishing. The same thing happens again. The whole night, they worked hard. They got nothing. And Jesus comes and asks, ‘do you have fish?’ They said, ‘no, we didn’t get anything.’ Then Jesus says, go and cast the net on the right side and you will catch fish. Then they went to cast the net and they got enough and more. Then Peter recognizes Jesus. See? Then Jesus says, follow me. If we fail in a call, if we fail in anything, the same thing may be repeated. The same mistakes may repeat. The same temptations may repeat. If you fall into sin, you will fall into the same sin again and again. Suppose, you had a wrong relationship once, then you may fall into another wrong relationship again. It’s the same with every sin. Why the sin repeats? Because you have its stain and therefore it repeats unless it has been washed in the precious blood of Jesus.

Back to Jacob’s story, what you have already taken, give it back and so take extra; perhaps it was an oversight. Maybe it was their mistake, so give it back. So, they are going to be truthful. Otherwise, they can’t survive. 

[Genesis 43:13-14] Take your brother also, and be on your way again to the man; may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, so that he may send back your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”  And then he started crying. Anyway, he has to cry a long time because he also made many people cry. So, he also had to cry. What you have done, it shall also be done on your own head. [Obadiah 1:15], we already read that word. Jacob made his brother Esau cry. He made his father Isaac cry. He made his father-in-law cry. He made Leah cry. So, in his old age, he is crying. Every sin that we commit will follow us whether we like it or not. He is a man of deception and he is going through deception. 

[Genesis 43:15] So the men took the presents, and they took double the money with them, as well as Benjamin. Then they went on their way down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.” They came before Joseph and Joseph didn’t ask why you came late.

[Genesis 43:16], When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” Now he was stepping into the reconciliation period. Interestingly, this is very important. All those who are interested in bible study. This is the most important aspect of the story of Joseph. In order to have reconciliation with his brothers, who cheated him, who abused him, sold him and made him slave, he selected to have supper with them. For reconciliation, he selected a supper. Remember, Joseph is the pre-shadow of Jesus. Jesus came down to this earth in order to have reconciliation between human beings and God himself. In order to have reconciliation, Jesus selected a supper. In the supper, there is a reconciliation. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Peter begged for mercy, there’s a reconciliation that went on. The same thing was happening as you can see between Joseph and his brothers. 

We read in [Revelation 3:19-20], “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” So, reconciliation is concluded with a supper. There’s dinner with the man who was to be reconciled and the one who asks to be reconciled. They come together for a supper as a culmination. That’s why in the Catholic Church, we believe the peak, summit and sum total of the whole salvation mystery is the Last Supper—the Holy Eucharist. That’s exactly what was happening in the case of Joseph. He wanted to have a reconciliation with his brothers. One is in the jail. The other had just come, his own brother, Benjamin. He is telling the steward of his house to slaughter an animal. It was most probably a lamb, that was going to be slaughtered for the reconciliation of two groups. Again, it’s a reminder about the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. In this dinner, they all stood around, all twelve of them. Twelve brothers. But in fact, Joseph is brother and king. He’s a brother plus in charge of Egypt. They don’t realize he was their brother. They only think he was the person in charge of that country. They must be wondering why they were selected to have dinner with Joseph. They must have thought, “We are unworthy. We are ordinary people. But he had chosen us to be around his royal table.” In fact, in every Holy Eucharist, we have the same feeling.  In the Royal Table, the Almighty God is on one side and the other ordinary human beings are around him. We do not deserve it. We are not worthy to be there on this table. But God has chosen us. And God knows one secret. The secret which God knows is we are all brothers. Unfortunately, we don’t realize we are brothers of Jesus. Just as the brother of Joseph didn’t realize that the king who was standing there was their brother. This is exactly what happens in every Last Supper, in every Holy Eucharist. We are chosen. We are made worthy to stand and sit around the table to celebrate the Supper and dine with the King, the Almighty God. 

[Genesis 43:17-18], The man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, replaced in our sacks the first time, that we have been brought in, so that he may have an opportunity to fall upon us, to make slaves of us and take our donkeys.” They were so shocked. They thought they were supposed to be on the road side, they thought of themselves as mere beggars who have come for food, but they were being taken to the royal suite. Then they were taken to the royal table. Why? They thought, they were not worthy. This is exactly what we should feel when we come for the Holy Mass. What worthiness do we have to come to the presence of God to have dinner with Him? And they said, “Is it because of the money, replaced in our sacks the first time, that we have been brought in?” See, when they had come for the dinner, the first thing that they were thinking was about their own mistakes and their own sins. This is exactly what happens when we come for Mass. We should remember our sins and bring our offering, that is, our every pain and every struggle. They said, “so that he may have an opportunity to fall upon us, to make slaves of us and take our donkeys.” These were their worries and their tensions with which they came to the dinner.

[Genesis 43:19], So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the entrance to the house.” At this time, they were speaking their tensions, all their mistakes, confessing it in front of the steward. Remember, Jesus is the King. In the Old Testament, the Jerusalem Temple has the high priest and the steward. The steward is the second in command of the Temple; just like the Pope is the steward of the Temple of God. The Pope is considered as the steward of the New Jerusalem Temple, the New Israel. As an extension of the priesthood of Christ, we go and confess our sins to His representatives, the priests. From here, we can see the pre-shadow of the Sacrament of Confession before going for Holy Mass. Before they enter into the dinner, they were confessing their mistake.

[Genesis 43:20-21], They said, “Oh my lord, we came down the first time to buy food; and when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each one’s money in the top of his sack, our money in full weight. So, we have brought it back with us.” In other words, they were saying, “please forgive us, it was a mistake.” They were in fact confessing their mistakes.

[Genesis 43:22], Moreover we have brought down with us additional money to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” They were confessing everything to the steward. It’s a pre-shadow of what we are supposed to do before we go for mass. We must confess our sins before the steward of the Church, the steward of the Body of Christ, that is, the priests, the bishops, the Pope. And we confess our sins to them. Then, we enter into the dining table for having the Holy Eucharist.

[Genesis 43:23], He replied, “Rest assured, do not be afraid; your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your sacks for you; I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.” “Rest assured, do not be afraid,” means forgiveness had been granted. See, the steward was supporting all of them, forgiving them, consoling them, and giving a special gift—the gift of their own brother. In the name of God the Father, he was blessing them. 

[Genesis 43:24], When the steward had brought the men into Joseph’s house, and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkey fodder,” Remember, when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, He washed the feet of the Apostles. Here, their feet were washed with water. You know, it’s a special blessing because they were elevated to a high standard in the royal table and he was washing their feet. You can see the pre-shadow of the Last Supper and all the connections in the Old Testament. The Old Testament and the New Testament are well-connected. The New Testament is hidden or concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, as St. Augustine of Hippo said. It was the steward who washed their feet. 

[Genesis 43:25-26], they made the presents ready for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they had heard that they would dine there. When Joseph came home, they brought him the presents that they had carried into the house, and bowed to the ground before him.” You can remember the offertory part in the Holy Mass. It’s the same thing we can see here. In the offertory, we have to bring the best of our fruits and give it to our Lord Jesus in the Holy Mass. It’s the same thing we can see here. They were bringing all their offerings and putting it in front of the king, Joseph, their own brother. Who is Jesus? He is also our own brother.

[Genesis 43:27-30], He inquired about their welfare, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and did obeisance. Then he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So, he went into a private room and wept there. Joseph met his own brother but he saw him changed completely. Joseph left when Benjamin was a small boy. But now that he is 30 years of age, he was seeing Benjamin as a grown man. Then he was asking and making sure if it was Benjamin. He went to a distant room and cried. We can see the same situation after the Last Supper. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, he kept a distance from his brothers and cried bitterly. You can see, the same scene pre-shadowed here.

[Genesis 43:31], Then he washed his face and came out; and controlling himself he said, “Serve the meal.” He wept with affection, not with fear. The meal was very painful for Joseph, very painful because he was missing all of them, he was full of compassion and affection for them, but was not able to express it. It was the same thing with the Last Supper, Jesus with pain inside Him because He was having the last supper with his brothers.

[Genesis 43:32], They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.” Egyptians never eat with the Hebrews so these people ate among themselves. As with the Holy Eucharist, it is meant only for those who are united with Jesus Christ. That’s why we don’t give Holy Communion to the Non-Christians. So, you can see the pre-shadow of the same. Though the others are in the same house, and Joseph was in charge of the whole country, but the Egyptians could not eat with them together. 

[Genesis 43:33-34], When they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So, they drank and were merry with him.” See, one of them was loved more than the others. It looks like a special favoritism only for one person. They must be wondering looking at Benjamin and asked, why was this king loving him more? But in fact, he loved all of them because all of them were his brothers. In the Last Supper, Jesus had a special love for John. John was leaning on Jesus’ chest and received a special love and special care from him. John was the beloved brother, but all the 12 were his brothers. So, it’s the same thing. We have so many secrets revealed in the Word of God, the pre-shadows of all the secrets in the New Testament were already hidden in the Old Testament. Let’s thank God for this wonderful mystery we are given in the Holy Eucharist.

 

 


 

Saints

 

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