>I remember the first time my sister and I were allowed to walk to the newsagents on our own. In our childhood home we lived around the corner from a small shopping strip which was the place we went to buy sweets and chocolate. The distance door-to-door could not have been much more than 100 metres; but for us it was an epic journey. It was epic not because of the distance, but because of the independence and freedom which we were being given.
Knowing my parents, especially my mother, I am sure that they were at least a little bit nervous letting us so far out of eye-sight and without supervision. But we were growing up and it was time for us to be allowed to go to the newsagents on our own. What I did not know at the time was that as my sister and I walked hand-in-hand to the shop, my father followed slightly behind, keeping us in eyesight almost all of the time. We felt like we were being granted our independence, while our parents kept a watchful eye.
Jacob was an overprotective parent, but only in relation to one of his children.
When the land of Canaan was suffering from the severe famine, which had impacted the entire region, there was still food in Egypt. Jacob heard about this and told his sons: ‘I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; get down there, and buy for us from there; that we may live, and not die’ (Genesis 42:2). So he sent ten of his sons to Egypt, Joseph was already presumed dead, but ‘Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob sent not with his brothers; for he said, Lest perhaps harm befall him’ (Genesis 42:4).
It is hardly surprising that Jacob was so protective of Benjamin, who was after all the baby of the family. He was also Rachel’s son, Jacob’s favourite wife, who had died while giving birth to him. And after the disappearance of Joseph (who Jacob believed to be dead), he was the only remaining connection for Jacob to Rachel. We can therefore understand why Jacob may have been particularly protective of Benjamin.
However, as every parent knows, there is a time when children need to be allowed to make their own way and to become independent of their parents. For my sister and I this began with a secretly supervised trip to the newsagents, and it was the first stage in our attainment of independence and the road to adulthood.
Benjamin could not be coddled and protected forever. Joseph was the catalyst who told his brothers: ‘If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in the house of your prison; you go, carry grain for the famine of your houses. But bring your youngest brother to me’ (Genesis 42:19-20). He required Benjamin be brought down to Egypt so that he could see his full-brother alive and well. But at the same time he also forced Jacob to recognise that Benjamin had grown up and had to be trusted to journey, with his brothers, down to Egypt. The quest to Egypt was vital for the survival of the family, as they were sure to need more grain. It was crucial for Simeon who was left behind as collateral until Benjamin was brought. And it was necessary for Benjamin as an opportunity to grow up and leave his father’s house.
Jacob did not follow a few paces behind to make sure that Benjamin was safe on the journey, but he did have nine other sons who were with him, and could ensure the security of his favoured child. In the journey to Egypt all of the brothers were forced to grow up, leaving the security of their father, and entrusting their fate into Joseph’s hands.
It was also a test for the brothers. How would they deal with the favoured son this time? Would he face a similar fate as Joseph, sold into slavery and separated from his family? Or would the brothers show that they were siblings who were prepared to assume responsibility for each other outside of Jacob’s home, ignoring his favouritism and the challenges which it presented.
It was at that moment, when they were all freed from the parental house, that the brothers could truly be reconciled making peace with each other.