Gift-giving at Christmas time wears many hats. Humanitarian organizations strive to make Christmas special for those who are less-fortunate; they give for the sake of equality. This is not a bad ideal, as you could say that when Jesus Christ came into the world, He came equally for all.
Gifts are a way of expressing ourselves; people give for the sake of generosity. This is also a noble cause, finding its roots in God’s expression of love: “For God so loved the world that He gave.”
At Bible Baptist Church, we DO give for those reasons. But we give for a grander cause than even these. We give for the sake of reconciliation. Would you like to see how that works? Let’s travel back in time to the days of the Patriarchs as they struggled to survive in a grievous seven year famine. Let’s cross the Nile River into the land of Sphinx and Pyramid and Pharaoh: Egypt.
(If you already know the story of Joseph, skip to the end for the revealing of Benjamin’s Bag.)
The twelve children of Jacob were distinctly divided. Joseph had been hated by ten of his older half-brothers and they had lied and schemed to have him taken out of their life. When Joseph met them in the fields to check on their welfare, they agreed to get rid of him, and lie to their family about what happened. Benjamin, Joseph’s younger, full-blooded brother never knew what became of his older sibling. He assumed he was dead; lost forever.
Joseph had been taken by slave traders into Egypt, and sold to a wealthy businessman named Potiphar. Joseph proved his worth as a steward in Potiphar’s house, and he was entrusted with all of Potiphar’s worldly goods. However, he was falsely accused of a crime, and betrayed by those he should have been able to trust, and was condemned to prison.
Days turned into years in that Egyptian prison. Benjamin was constantly on Joseph’s mind. But here, certainly, he would die, and he would never get to see his brother again.
Meanwhile, Benjamin makes his way in the country as a humble shepherd in the family business. There is very little joy for the twelve, now eleven, tribes of Israel. More sorrowful is the remembrance every year of the day the bloody coat was brought home. Listening near his tent, you can still hear the soft sobs of bereavement and grief.
But Joseph stays trustworthy even in prison. He has his mind on his father, his family, his brother. He will not give up hope so easily.
The warden entrusts him as a steward over all the prisoners. As steward, Joseph meets two very unusual men, whose fates lead him out of that dark jail into the throne-room of Pharaoh himself.
Pharaoh’s butler and baker have committed crimes which put them in jail, and now their very lives hang in the balance. They are both troubled by nightmares. Joseph has a relationship with God that allows him to speak the word of the Lord concerning their dreams. The butler, he prophesies, will be restored in three days. The baker, he predicts, will be executed in three days. Their fates happen to them exactly as Joseph said. The butler promises not to forget Joseph in that prison, but upon his release, he fails to remember the kindness of the falsely accused Hebrew. It seems that it is just a matter of time before Joseph is erased from history forever.
Until one night, Pharaoh has a dream. Seven cows and seven cornstalks later, all of Egypt has insomnia as the monarch frets over his vision. As the butler attends to his king, he remembers a promise he made to a ward in the prison and Joseph is raised up to Pharaoh’s right hand.
His favor with Pharaoh forms because of a fantastic, yet terrible truth he reveals to him: seven years of fruitfulness will be consumed by a merciless famine. Joseph prudently prepares the nation of Egypt for what is to come. Back in Canaan, Jacob and his sons blindly plod on day to day, hand to mouth, unaware of the dearth to come.
Year one of the famine strikes. Joseph is busy about his mission in Egypt, and his hard work has made the African country the bread-basket of the world, literally. In the back of his mind, Joseph never stops thinking of his brother. He has him on his mind, always believing that if they can survive the famine, he will see him again.
Fast-forward to Genesis 43. Joseph sees, recognizes, and provides for his family as a generous unknown. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11) He sends them away with one request- bring your youngest brother, or see my face again no more. Joseph knew there would be a struggle between the tribes, and they would have to fight his father to make that happen. But it was either that, or starve. Joseph had already given them what they needed, and restored them all they had paid for it. But his heart yearned for his brother, and nothing would stand in the way of that.
Now they come. All the brothers at one table at one time. What a glorious reunion! Perhaps Simeon speaks up, “Why, we haven’t had a meal together like this since… since…” and his voice trails off. Heads bow. Eyes cloud with tears. Joseph can’t take it- he is RIGHT THERE, and they “beheld his glory,” (John 1:14) yet, he is a stranger. He runs from the room, choking back his sorrow.
The Israelites prepare to leave once more, maybe this time forever. Joseph is desperate for his estranged family- he loves them, and they don’t even know it! The donkeys are packed, the wagon train departs. But just before they leave, Joseph secretly places a gift into Benjamin’s bag that will change his life forever.
It was an unique gift, unlike the bags of money he had already restored to his other brothers. It contained his signature, his identity. It would reveal “the thoughts of many hearts.” (Luke 2:35) It was the last attempt to reconcile what the sinful curse had separated.
Did it work? You bet your Christmas stocking it did. That silver cup became the token of a fractured family put back together. A relationship which seemed forever lost, was miraculously restored because Joseph gave an unexpected present.
That’s why we have a “Benjamin’s Bag.” We give not out of guilt, nor of necessity, nor for equality or poverty. We understand that a Gift was given so that we could be “present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) The Lord Jesus desires our presence, so He gave us a reconciling Gift.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” Ephesians 2:8
And that’s the story of Benjamin’s Bag.