● Gen 43:1-7 . . But the famine in the land was severe. And when they had eaten up the rations which they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them: Go again and procure some food for us.
. . . But Judah said to him: The man warned us "Do not let me see your faces unless your brother is with you". If you will let our brother go with us, we will go down and procure food for you; but if you will not let him go, we will not go down, for the man said to us "Do not let me see your faces unless your brother is with you".
. . . And Israel said: Why did you serve me so ill as to tell the man that you had another brother? They replied: But the man kept asking about us and our family, saying "Is your father still living? Have you another brother?" And we answered him accordingly. How were we to know that he would say bring your brother here?
Judah is direct, and right to the point. If Jacob doesn't let the brothers take Benjamin with them on the next trip, then the family is certain to go without food. It's just that simple, and there's no use in sugar coating it.
● Gen 43:8-10 . . Then Judah said to his father Israel: Send the boy in my care, and let us be on our way, that we may live and not die-- you and we and our children. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible; if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty before you forever. For we could have been there and back twice if we had not dawdled.
At this point, the number of kin for whom Jacob was directly responsible to provide numbered well over 70, upwards of 100, because the list in chapter 46 doesn't include his sons' wives, nor any of the wives of his grandsons. Truly, if Jacob wasn't careful, he would cause the loss of his entire clan in the interest of saving just one. Since the whole clan was now in mortal danger, they really had nothing to lose by risking Benjamin's life. He would die anyway from hunger; so why not have him die trying to obtain some additional grain from Egypt? It was an acceptable risk given the circumstances.
During all this discussion, the Egyptian big shot is only referred to as "the man" which means Joseph didn't tell the brothers his official Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah; and they couldn't have gotten it off their grain permits because Joseph signed all government documents with that signet gadget given to him by Pharaoh back in chapter 41.
● Gen 43:11-14 . .Then their father Israel said to them: If it must be so do this: take some of the strength of the land in your baggage, and carry them down as a gift for the man-- some balm and some honey, labdanum, pistachio nuts, and almonds.
. . . And take with you double the silver, carrying back with you the silver that was replaced in the mouths of your bags; perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother too; and go back at once to the man. And may El Shaddai dispose the man to mercy toward you, that he may release to you your other brother, as well as Benjamin. As for me, if I am to be bereaved, I shall be bereaved.
The "choice" fruits would have to be limited to produce that doesn't spoil easily since it was probably three weeks travel time via burro.
Balm was a good gift, since it was a trade item (Gen 37:25) and a valuable first aid treatment.
Labdanum is a soft dark fragrant bitter oleoresin derived from various rockroses (genus Cistus) and used in making perfumes. Another trade item.
Before the advent of processed sugar and artificial sweeteners, honey was a lot more popular than it is now. There is no Hebrew word for sugar in the entire Old Testament. A little-known fact about natural honey is its medicinal value. Honey fights bacteria in wounds in several ways, including the steady production of hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic. One type of honey-- Manuka --is especially effective.
Honey was valued in the old world; as evidenced by it being one of the nouns to describe the qualities of the promised land (Ex 3:8). The Hebrew word for honey-- debash (deb-ash') --is a bit ambiguous. It can mean the kind of organic goo produced in nature by bees and/or can indicate a thick, intensely sweet syrup produced from dates and grape juice; which Arabs call dibs. In this story, either one would have been as good as the other since neither were easy to obtain.
I would think that honey-bee honey would be the more prized since there's been found no evidence of scientific agriculture in the Palestine of that day. Any honey gathered would have to be found by first searching for it in the wild, and then braving its angry owners in order to collect it. (cf. 1Sam 14:24-27)
The almonds, honey, and pistachios were just treats; but the other items, given by a man, to a man, were about the equivalent of giving a girl jewelry. They weren't cheap. And considering the austere conditions in the land caused by the intense drought, anything edible would certainly be appreciated far more than normal.
Jacob knew God as Yhvh as well as by His name El Shaddai (Gen 27:20, Gen 28:13) but in this instance he depends upon God as El Shaddai; the God of Abraham's covenant (Gen 17:1-2, Gen 35:10-12) the God powerful enough to control nature and make the impossible happen. (cf. Eph 3:20)
NOTE: I'm not sure just how well-informed the ancients were about the nutritional benefits of almonds; but they are an excellent source of natural riboflavin (B2).
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