On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.
They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’
“Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’”
As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”
Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
- Genesis 42:18-24, 28-38
In the two Scripture passages from Genesis 42, you see two conversations that use the concepts of “you can”, “you may”, and “you will.” Joseph arrests Simeon, not allowing all the brothers to return to their father, Jacob. Joseph could have exercised can, may, and will. He had the power. In verse 20, Joseph uses “may” twice. The first use is that their words may be verified if Benjamin comes with them the next time. It is not a guarantee of their words will be verified, only may. Joseph reserved the decision for himself. The added “may not die” was a dramatic threat. “Dramatic” in that Joseph had no intention of having his brothers killed, but they did not know that. Again, the “may” is conditional. Joseph could have them killed. Joseph will not have them killed, but he leaves it on the table to ensure their compliance with his demand to see his brother Benjamin.
Then the second Scripture is a conversation between Reuben and Jacob. Reuben begs for Benjamin to go with them, and Jacob refused. He later relents, but at this stage, “No, you may not.” In this case, Jacob had the authority and Reuben left empty-handed. Yet, Reuben offered a bargain, that Jacob could kill his two sons if Benjamin did not return from the journey. Reuben used “may.” But, when you read on, it was Judah that offered himself as a living sacrifice when Joseph accused Benjamin of theft. Reuben was two scared to step forward, even though he had allowed Jacob to kill his own children. Would Jacob have done so? Kill his own grandchildren while their father had been killed as a spy in Egypt? I doubt that.
What brings up these odd concepts of can, may, and will?
When our boys were young, one might approach and ask, “Can I have a cookie?”
I would reply, “I don’t know. Can you?”
One of my sons, the argumentative one, would become angry and say, “This is not a language arts class!!!! Can I have a cookie?!?!”
At this show of disrespect, I would place the bag of cookies on top of the refrigerator, where, for his age, he was unable to reach the bag.
Then, he would say, “Arrrrgh!! Okay, okay!!! May I have a cookie? … … … … Please.”
The delay before the “please” showed up may have been a lot longer with a staring contest in the process. Me with mischief in mind, he with pure hatred in mind.
Then I would say that he could, but his brother had to come in and get a cookie also. With an even louder “Arrrrgh!” he would run to get his brother. Yes, a very strong willed child, and as for Dr. Dobson’s book, it did not work. I think our son read it and understood the techniques well enough to defeat them.
With that in mind, I had an encounter with our granddaughter on our recent vacation. My son allowed me to use his workstation platform to set up my laptop and reference books for a little blog writing while I was there. What I had not noticed was that the pencil sharpener was on the desktop.
Our granddaughter, highly introverted and an accomplished artist for a nine-year-old, was very quiet, even when she wanted something.
I was deep in thought when I heard a whisper behind me. “Opa, can I sharpen my pencil?”
I turned around and said, “I don’t know. Can you?” I still had no idea where the sharpener was.
Unlike the previous conversation, she beamed with delight and even giggled. She nudged her shoulder and looked at the sharpener, right next to my mouse. She asked with a smile, “May I use the pencil sharpener, please?”
Her smile could have melted a heart of stone. “Absolutely, sweetheart, anything for the best hugger in the family.”
She jumped into my arms to give me a big hug. I pulled away from the table so that she could easily reach the sharpener and then, once finished, she was off to draw something.
But as for her six-year-old brother, he only knows “I will.” A couple of years ago, my wife and I discussed his problem. He sees his brother and sister doing things and he skips past the “may I”, ignores the “can I”, and focuses on the “I will.” Every time he finds my wife’s (Oma’s) cellphone not in use, he will open her favorite game. Does he advance her to the next level? No. He has no clue how to play the game or what the objective of the game is, but when my wife picks up the game, she finds no energy left, no ability to play the game for another day, and when the energy is restored, she has no boosters to help her win. A silly game, but a path of total destruction, because he has no clue what “you may not” means.
I had a small container of lemon crisps that I bought at a gas station. I knew the three grandchildren loved anything lemon. As the children did something nice, I would hand them a lemon crisp cookie. The youngest was his usual loud, obnoxious self, mostly in the way of anything constructive being done. I told him, “You may not have any.” When my back was turned, he found the container and ate half the contents. His “I will” trumps any “You may not.”
I pray that his “I will” attitude does not get him killed. He is the youngest and his older siblings have earned their privileges. His losing things, hiding things, and destroying things has earned him the lack of those privileges, but he thinks he knows better. Every “You may not” so far has led to him trying to do it. Some “You may nots” are simply too dangerous for him to try.
But of the three, if he ever gets convicted of his sins, he can easily see the results of his sin nature, while the older two are angels – for the most part.
We all have a little “I will” within us. I have written before about the Major who taught senior year ROTC. He was well over six feet tall and in a basketball game, he had only one foul left. A little four foot nothing (a really short player on the other team) had caused him to make silly fouls. He was on the bench, and he begged the coach, “Put me in! I have only one foul left, and I know who I’m going to use it on!” We all have that sinful intent at times. Most of us curb it a little. The ones everyone calls a “saint” tend to curb that sin nature most of the time, but we all have our moments, our weaknesses.
God gives us a bunch of “you may nots.” There are a lot more in Exodus and Leviticus and many repeated in Deuteronomy than just the Ten Commandments. But there are some “you mays” scattered throughout the Bible. In fact, God encourages us to help those in need. We are commanded to spread the Gospel.
As for our grandson, we are praying that he lives long enough to grow out of this destructive attitude, but some people never do. Hell is filled with people who told God that they would do their will instead of God’s will.
May we set an example for others and pray that they see how God has their best interest at heart.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.