Saturday, January 23, 2016

In which my imagination runs away with me...

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

This has happened several times as I've written the All Things New trying hard to give the narrative relevance, I've wandered off into writing a fictionalized account.

It's so hard to find the line between narrative paraphrase and just plain fiction; it took me three edits to get yesterday's post pared down to the paraphrase.

But I kept the deleted portions.  I'd put a lot of work into that and I didn't want to throw it away.

So, for a cold day's reading, here's the fictional-but-possible bit I deleted yesterday,  ;-)

Something like 20 years passed since Judah pulled his brother out of the cistern and traded him off for 20 pieces of silver.   I wonder what he did with his two-piece share.  Did he spend it right away, just to get it out of sight?  Did he put it away somewhere, feeling wrong about even possessing it? How many nights did he lay in bed, awake, wondering what happened to his younger brother?
He had wandered away from his family, from his God, and returned with twin sons.

And then....

Drought.  Serious drought.  The crops shriveled, the sheep starved.  Passing travelers brought word that there was grain to be bought in Egypt.  Jacob looked at the starving flocks and his paltry reserves and sent Judah, along with the rest of his sons, save Benjamin, to make the journey to Egypt to buy some grain to hopefully tide them over until the rains came again.

They made the journey safely and found themselves lined up with numbers of Egyptians and other Canaanites who had come to the capital to purchase grain.   However, their alien appearance made them stand out, and they, along with others who were clearly not Egyptian, were pulled out of line and taken to one of the Egyptian officials.  Each group of foreigners was presented to the official, who interviewed them before allowing them to purchase grain.  When it was their turn, they bowed to the ground in front of the official, who frowned at them and spoke through an interpreter.  'Where do you come from?'  

They all spoke up at once, 'From Canaan, to buy food.'

The official’s eyes narrowed as he regarded them, clearly unhappy with their answer.  He shook his head and spoke to the interpreter, his eyes never leaving them.  The interpreter replied, 'You are spies!  You have come to see that the famine is here, too!'

The brothers bowed again, protesting that their intention was simply to buy food, that they were not spies, that they were honest men, and Reuben added, 'We are all brothers, sons of one man.'  

The interpreter spoke to the official, translating and pointing as best he could to indicate who had said what.  The official's face never changed; clearly, he did not believe them.  At last he spoke again to the interpreter, who relayed, 'No!  My master states that you are here to see how bad the famine is, to report that Egypt is weak!'

Again, the brothers protested, and this time it was Judah who shushed them and replied for them, 'No!  We are your servants, and we are ten of twelve brothers.  Our father is in Canaan with our youngest brother, and one brother is no more.  This is the truth.'

The interpreter relayed this message, but the official was unconvinced. He looked them all over again, then spoke to the interpreter, who relayed the message, 'My master is certain you are spies.  He says that you shall be tested and declares by the life of Pharaoh that you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes to verify your claims.  You are to decide which of you will leave and return to Canaan to fetch that brother and bring him back while the rest stay here confined until your story is proven.  If you cannot do this, you are surely spies.'  

And, before any of them could react to this incredible statement, the Egyptian official spoke to the soldiers standing about and they were all taken to a house and locked in together, with a guard. For three days they were left there, although they were fed well and otherwise taken care of, clearly under suspicion.  They argued amongst themselves as to who would be the one to return to Jacob with the news that they were captive, and to try to persuade him to allow Benjamin to return and ransom his brothers.  None of them wanted that task, and they went around and around trying to come up with ways to convince the Egyptians that they were really who they said without having to grieve their father again.  And that brought up the old grief; how had they been so callous before?  Finally, they began to pray to El Shaddai to intervene and release them by His power.

On the third day, they were escorted back to the official, who had apparently had a change of heart.  But only a slight change of heart, as the interpreter related how much the man had relented...and how much he had not. 'Do this, ' he relayed, 'and you will live, for I fear God.  I will allow you to take grain back to your household, due to the famine, but one of you must stay here.  If you are honest men, return with your youngest brother, and your story will be proven.'

At first, relief washed over them that they would be allowed to take grain back home, but then the full impact hit them.  They turned to each other and began to discuss how to respond to this latest development...and suddenly they all concluded that this was because of the secret they had kept for so many years:

'This is because we're guilty! "

"We knew our brother was distressed and we did nothing!"

"He begged us to let him return to our father and we didn't listen"

Reuben, in exasperation, finally got their attention.  ‘I told you not to sin against the boy!  But you didn't listen!'  His eyes rested on Judah, who said nothing. ‘So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’

 None of them noticed that the Egyptian official suddenly turned and left them as they continued to lament their circumstances.  How could they leave one of their brothers behind?  How could they possibly take Benjamin away from Jacob?  What were they going to tell the Egyptian?  The argument and despair continued until the interpreter interrupted them; the Egyptian had stepped down from the platform and was standing next to them.  Odd how red his eyes were...that eyeliner must irritate them somehow.  He made the decision for them; he had Simeon taken and bound.  Simeon would stay behind, he told them through the interpreter, as guarantee that they would return with their younger brother.  But they were free to collect their grain and return home.  The sacks of grain were already set aside for them, as was a generous bag of provender for the trip.

They returned to Jacob with grain but without Simeon, who had been kept as a hostage to prove that they were not spies.  And, as it turned out, they had also returned with all the money that they had given to the Egyptians for the grain.

Free grain.  But...what had happened?  Were they now to be considered thieves as well as spies?
Jacob was distraught...Joseph was dead, Simeon was gone, and now it seemed he would lose Benjamin...his only living son from his beloved well.  He refused to let them return with Benjamin, despite Reuben's offer of his two sons as hostage.  

But the famine continued.  They ate the grain, the livestock ate the grain, and soon they were once again in dire straits.  Jacob called them in and told them to go get more.
Judah sighed. 'We can't.  That Egyptian fellow sternly warned us that we would not get any more unless we brought Benjamin back with us.  Now, if you'd let Benjamin go, we can take him and prove ourselves to be innocent and get more food.  But if you still won't let him go, then it's pointless...he won't even talk to us and we won't get anything.'

Israel wrung his hands.  'How could you have been so inconsiderate of me as to tell him about Benjamin!  Why didn't you just keep your mouths shut?'

At this, the brothers all protested, speaking at once.

'We didn't have any choice!
'He actually asked us if our father was still living'

'Yeah, and he wanted to know if we had any more brothers!'
'How were we supposed to know that he was going to ask us to bring Benjamin back?'

'We had to answer his questions!'

Judah, exasperated, finally said, 'Look.  Send Benjamin with me.  I'll take care of him myself.  It's the only way to keep us all from, us, all our children... I'll pledge his safety; if anything happens to him...anything at all...I'll bear the blame and guilt.'  He looked around at them all. 'This lamenting is ridiculous.  We could've gone and come back twice now already.'

Israel closed his eyes for a long time, then spoke in a tired voice. 'You're right.  It's the only way. this...take some of our best produce with you...balm, honey, gum, myrrh, and some pistachios and almonds, as a gift.  And take twice the money with you, so that you can repay what was in the bags.  Maybe someone made a mistake.'  He paused, then continued with a tremor in his voice. 'Take your brother and go.  May God Almighty grant you mercy from the Egyptian, so that he sends all of you back to me.  But if he doesn't...then...he doesn't.  If that's what God wants, I cannot change it.'

They loaded up the donkeys and, within a matter of days, were once again standing in front of the Egyptian official, who looked them over, spoke to his servant, and left.

The servant indicated that the brothers were to follow him, and they were led to a fine house and taken inside. They assumed it was a palace and a place of judgment, and were worried that they were about to be condemned as thieves and all their goods confiscated.  They found the servant who had brought them there, standing in the door.  They tried to talk to him, and he sent for the interpreter.  

Once the interpreter was there, they began to explain urgently that they had no idea how their money had gotten back in their grain sacks but that they were returning it.   When the servant grasped what they were so concerned about he waved his hands dismissively, and the interpreter passed his words along, 'Oh, don't worry about that!  If you had money in your bags, it had to have been a gift from your God; I have on record that you paid for that grain and you don't owe anything.'  The servant then beckoned to someone outside the door and stepped back to allow Simeon, who looked to be in fine health, to join his brothers.  The servant then spoke through the interpreter, 'My lord Zaphenath-paneah will come to dine here with you at noon; I will send water so that you may wash and I will also see that your donkeys have been fed and watered.'  Then he left.

When the Egyptian official arrived, they presented the gift their father had sent, and answered the questions he asked through the interpreter.  Yes, their father was still living.  Yes, he was well, for an old man.  Yes, that was Benjamin, the youngest brother.

Suddenly, the Egyptian turned and hurried from the room.  He was obviously a very busy and important man.  Eventually, he returned, looking strained and preoccupied.  He sat at his seat at the head table, separate from the table of the Hebrews,  and spoke to the servants, who began to serve the food.  The men were instructed to take their places at their table, with Reuben and Benjamin at the head. All the brothers, including Judah, could not help but notice the special treatment Benjamin received.   One platter was put at each brother's place...and five platters at Benjamin's.  One servant was designated to make sure Benjamin's water and wine glasses were full and his plates fresh; three servants all shared the responsibilities for the rest of the brothers.  Benjamin looked uncomfortable, but was gracious to his hosting servant.  The wine was good.  The wine was very good.  The cups never went dry, and the brothers did not even notice when the Egyptian official left the dining hall. All seemed well.  The suspicions had apparently been put to rest, and the brothers were given a place to sleep before leaving in the morning.  They groggily headed off to the designated place, and somewhat less cheerfully rose up in the morning, loaded the donkeys and headed down the road, squinting against headaches.

They were not far down the road when they were overtaken by the official's chief servant and a contingency of soldiers.  The displeasure of the servant was plain to be seen.  Words were spoken, accusations made and...the Egyptian official's special cup was found in Benjamin's sack.  No!  How could that happen!  Not Benjamin!  The brothers tore their robes in grief and distress, loaded the goods back onto the donkeys and followed the servant and the soldiers, who had taken custody of Benjamin, back to the official's house, where they threw themselves at the feet of the official. 

 The Egyptian scowled at them, and said, through the interpreter, 'What have you done?  Didn't you know I have the ability to find things like this out?'

Judah, having been the guarantee for Benjamin's return, rocked back on his knees and looked up at him. 'What shall we say to you, my lord?  We ...we can't clear ourselves of this; God has revealed the guilt of all of us, and we are all your servants.'

The official listened to the interpreter, then raised his eyebrows and shook his head.  The interpreter relayed his response, 'Oh, no, far be it from me that I should consider you all guilty!  Only the one who took the cup is responsible. He will stay and be my slave, but the rest of you may go home with your grain to your father.'

Judah's heart sank.  He knew there was absolutely no way he could return home without Benjamin.  He slowly stood, and, with his hands palms up in supplication, stepped towards the Egyptian.  'My lord, may I please speak a word in your ear?'  The interpreter quickly relayed the request and the Egyptian nodded. 

 Judah, the Egyptian and the interpreter all walked to the corner of the room.  Judah spoke lowly and slowly, for the interpreter.  He related the difficulty they had in persuading their father to allow Benjamin to come, mentioning that Benjamin's only full-blood brother had surely been torn to pieces.  So intent was he framing his story carefully, he did not notice that the official flinched ever so slightly at that point.  He finished quoting his father, ' "...if you take this one, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to the grave." '  Judah paused,  then looked at the official. 'Do you see?  If I return to my father without Benjamin, he will surely die...he's that attached to the lad.  We'll be responsible for his death.  Look, I myself guaranteed Benjamin’s safety.  Please, let me stay here and serve you.  I'll be your slave all my life, just let the lad return with the others.  How could I face my father without him?  I do not want to see him die of grief.'

The Egyptian cut the interpreter off mid-sentence as soon as Judah finished speaking.  He was breathing hard, and he looked around at his people and barked a command.  To the surprise of all the brothers, every Egyptian in the room left, closing the door on them.  Suddenly, the Egyptian began to weep, a deep, gut-wrenching wail.  The other brothers stood slowly, puzzled.  

The official struggled to collect himself enough to talk. Finally, he found his voice and gripped Judah's shoulder as he Hebrew.  '!'  He gasped, to their shocked amazement.  'Tell my father really still alive?'  

They stood there, speechless, as he released Judah's shoulder and pulled the braided wig from his close-cropped head and stood before them with the khol that had framed his eyes now streaking his face.  He wiped his face, smearing it even more, took a deep breath and continued in a more controlled voice.  'I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into slavery.'  

He slowly went to each of his brothers, clapping shoulders as he spoke, still hiccupy from the sobbing.  'Don't be distressed any more about me, and don't be angry at yourselves for what you did.  God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.  This famine, that has been so horrible for two years, isn't even half over yet.  We have five more years of this to endure, with no plowing and no harvest. It really was God who sent me so that you could all be saved.  God has made me Pharaoh's chief adviser, He has put me in this house and given me authority over all of Egypt.
'Now, you've got to hurry back home and report all of this to my father.  Tell him to come here; I will see to it that you are all provided, and that you will not be impoverished by the famine.'  He had come to Benjamin, and his voice wavered as he looked round at them all, 'You all have seen...and my brother, Benjamin, has seen...that it really is me.  Tell my father all of this, and bring him here.'  

His emotions overcame him once more, and he embraced Benjamin and they wept long on each others neck, then he went round the group again, embracing and weeping with each of them.

We sometimes forget that we are reading about real people, who had real struggles.

I just have to be careful not to imply my 'I think it might have happened like this' comes across as  'this is how it really happened...'

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