Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why are you staring at one another?”
Crisis can paralyze us. Look at any disaster in history and there will be accounts of the heroic and, mixed in, accounts of those who froze. Often, the heroic is prompted by those who freeze. If we were all composed and doing what we should then there would be no need for heroism much of the time.
Joseph’s brothers, the sons of Jacob/Israel are paralyzed by the famine. Not difficult to imagine. There is a famine so severe that its area spreads from Egypt all the way to Israel (then Canaan). That kind of famine would paralyze a lot of people. So, Joseph’s brothers probably held regular meetings, trying to figure out what to do about the lack of food. These guys make decisions by committee all the time, it appears. They decided by committee to toss Joseph into a pit and decided in the same way to sell him into slavery. Get all ten of them together and they have to hold a meeting on when to schedule the meeting that will decide what they’ll talk about in the meeting. They’re stuck. And they’re not stuck because they’re indecisive people. Read the preceding chapters and you find plenty of decisions—most of them poor—made by individual brothers in the family. This problem affects the entire clan and each of them probably wants his say on how things should be handled. This is a crisis and each and every brother is hitting his own individual panic button.
Enter the solution. Jacob—some Bible teachers say that Jacob is called Israel when he is being led by the Holy Spirit and Jacob when he’s leading himself—breaks in on one of their meetings and asks why they’re all staring at each other. This is, possibly, the best description I’ve ever read of an unproductive meeting. Ever. Jacob continues, in the verse that follows, to say that he has heard tell of food down in Egypt. His solution? Go find out if there’s food in Egypt and, if there is, buy some. Not rocket science.
And that, I think, is part of why Jacob is called Jacob here. If The Bible, as many have asserted, calls Jacob “Israel” when he’s being spiritual and “Jacob” the rest of the time then it is ideally appropriate that this action, practical as it is, is made by Jacob. It’s not that God is impractical, but rather that there are some places where I don’t think God feels the need to tell us what to do. Starving to death while there’s food nearby-ish? Go buy food. If we need direction from on High to do something that practical then we have other problems to address entirely separate from the spiritual.
Are we in the midst of some sort of crisis? Two things: (1) Have we prayed? God had already told Pharaoh this famine was coming and given Joseph the plan for how to survive it. We, Christians, should begin with prayer. (2) Are we taking care of the practical? It has been said that God will not do for men what men must do for themselves. I think there’s truth in that. God will do for men what we are completely incapable of doing for ourselves (See: salvation), but I do not think He’s going to go shopping for us. Even when God provided manna for Israel in the wilderness, the Israelites still had to go pick up their share. Israel didn’t pray the walls of Jericho down, they marched. God always calls us to work with Him. He does the heavy lifting, but there’s still work for us to do.
Are we “staring at each other” or are we on the road down to Egypt to get grain? Are we expecting God to be a cosmic genie or are we asking Him to handle business then stepping out to handle our share?