Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.
Genesis 43:8-9 (NIV)
As I mentioned in a post last week, I consciously spent several years investigating my family history. The quest was motivated by a desire to understand the family systems from which I descended and how they may have influenced my own family system, my childhood, and the person I’ve become. One of the things that I discovered in my quest was the fact that decisions can have a far-reaching, generational impact.
My maternal great-grandfather committed suicide. The story goes that he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis which was a death sentence at the time. The family suspected that he killed himself to spare them the agony and financial burden of his care. My grandfather was the eldest of three children and his mother sent him to be raised by her parents while she retained the younger two. My grandfather’s stories of life with his strict, disciplinarian grandparents were mostly unpleasant. It was not a fun life, but he learned the value of hard work and was taught strong values. He also had an uncle, a Methodist minister, who took him under his wing and planted seeds of faith in him. His brother and sister, on the other hand, were left under the care of a desperate woman who became a gold-digger, worked on the riverboats, went through a series of failed marriages. Her children’s lives would become equally broken and tragic.
My paternal great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands. He owned a hardware store in Rock Valley, Iowa and his eldest two sons were partners in the business. My grandfather and his sister were younger siblings who desperately wanted to be part of the family business but were shut out. Since the family business was not an option, my grandfather decided to go to college. He went into education and was a career educator.
As I look back, I can trace the events of my grandfather’s stories to my own life. Had my grandfather not have been farmed out to his grandparents and taught strict lessons of hard work, discipline, and spiritual values, my mother would not have been the person she was and those life lessons would not have been passed down. Had my grandfather not gone into education, I’m not sure how much education would have been valued in my own family. I’m not sure my siblings and I would have had the life journeys we’ve had or would have the careers we’ve each chosen. I even discovered, unexpectedly, that my love of theatre may have had its roots in my Grandpa Vander Well’s college years at Central College.
In today’s chapter, there’s a subtle shift in the storyline that is lost on most readers, and few see the generational impact that the events will have on the history of the world. Desperate for more food to ensure their survival, Israel tells his sons to go buy more grain in Egypt. But Joseph told them not to return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah steps up to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. From this point in the story, Judah becomes the leader and spokesman for the brothers. Judah is fourth-born, but his elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been involved in sexual scandal and had instigated the bloody massacre of Shechem that brought disgrace to the family and threatened their survival.
Hundreds of years later, the twelve tribes would be settled in the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah would emerge as the leading tribe. It was from the tribe of Judah that King David would emerge along with the capital city of Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon, and the dynasty from which the Messiah would be born. When the nation eventually splits in bloody civil war, ten tribes would break away and reject the Davidic line of succession. Two tribes would remain allied in maintaining the Davidic line in the belief that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled and a Messiah would someday spring from it. Those two tribes were Judah and Benjamin, the very brother whom Judah swore to be responsible for in today’s chapter.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the decisions we make in our lives that will have a generational impact on our descendants. I can see the past and how it’s affected my own life. It’s harder to imagine how my own choices and decisions will affect my great-grandchildren and great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. I am reminded why God continually reminds us to love our children, to teach them God’s ways, and not to exasperate them. And, why God tells children to honor their parents. For good or for ill, we are part of one another’s stories and the stories of generations who will come after. While I have no control over those who came before me nor do I control those who will come after me, I do have control of my own story and my own family relationships on this journey. I best consider what I do with those relationships wisely.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.