Even little, flyspeck-sized countries, like Abdullah’s Gilead, would be turned upside down--their entire social fabric contaminated and eaten up by the Topaz’s pervading diseases of the human mind, will, heart, and psychological systems. At the first the fatal aspect was not apparent. The symptoms would seem to be advantages.
Gilead, for example again, would become self-conscious of its glorious heritage, which was not that apparent to its neighbors, but then the Gileadites would turn zenophobic, and envy and hatred of other peoples and nations quickly follow.
Raiding and invading of neighbors’ territories was sometime sporadic in past time, but with the Topaz goading them them on, despoiling neighbors would become the national passion, the natural result of their Gilead-centric thinking and vainglory. But this did not spell the end of the disease. While they preyed on their neighbors wherever they could get away with it, they would meanwhile prey upon each other with the same envy, hatred, and rivalry.
Gilead would be transformed into a nest of factions, dividing the nation, the clans, the families, and then brother from brother,sister from sister, mother from daughter, father from son.
No nation can continue very long in such a state, and Gilead would, in fourscore years, collapse into a bloody mess of warring, petty chieftains who couldn’t even control their own families and tribes. Everyone would became the prey of somebody else, and of course everyone would feel justified in striking back just as hard as he got!
The Hebrews would prove no exception to what the dark emanations of the approaching Topaz would do to Mizraim at the top of the list of powers and to the smallest country, such as Gilead. But this was the near future. As if to prepare the way of the deadly Topaz, to compound the pressures of fracturization, drought and world-famine struck. After seven particularly good and prosperous years for everybody, no rain fell. One year, then two and three passed, and still no rain. One year was hard enough, even living on reserves. Crops were destroyed. Water supplies dwindled rapidly. The fighting grew intense and bloody around water holes and wells. Without water people could not surive, whereas the food shortages could be alleviated by buying from stock-piled sources--notably Mizraim’s.
The world’s granary was doing fine, with hoards of grain put away wisely by its Grand Taty. All during the seven good years preceding the drought, one fifth of the harvests had been put away in store-houses. Counting of the amounts had gone on for several years, then was abandoned, the amounts becoming so great it was no longer necessary to know exactly how much Mizraim held in reserve.
Of all the nations, only Mizraim knew the drought was coming and had prepared for it. Now she alone was well fed, with no fear of future starvation, while all the rest of the world watched the water go down in their wells and the oil and grain disappear in their pantries.
Would the weather turn and rain fall? The third year had come, and still the land was scorched by the Second Moon and no clouds appeared. At this point the peoples of the stricken nations panicked. They started to send merchants and ships and wagons in a growing multitude of caravans, all heading for Mizraim’s plenty, hoping to buy enough to keep themselves from starving.
Time after time Jacob of the House of Israel watched such caravans heading toward Mizraim. Gilead wasn’t too proud either--though the Gileadites had fought with Mizraimites for years on the caravan routes and approaches to Mizraim. Jacob finally decided that he must swallow his own pride and seek a source of food even in Mizraim. He had reduced the allotments of grain and oil again and again, and then watched the faces of the women and the children narrow and lose their plump flesh and glow. He could stand the sight no longer. Men could suffer, but for women and children, it was worse. Jacob watched their happiness being destroyed, and being in charge he could bear it no longer. Something must be done! He had prayed and prayed to El Shaddai, and nothing! Nothing but silence! Yet something must be done!
He sent Benjamin his favorite who called his other sons to his tent. Each looked at the others, cautioning themselves and each other with glances concerning the “old man’s sorrow’’--the sorrow Jacob had still for his lost son Joseph--and then went in. Not that it was necessary any longer.
Thirteen years had passed, and each conspirator in the plot against Joseph had known many troubled nights without sleep, especially since their father continued to lament Joseph’s death, reminding them every day of their crime against Joseph and their father. Every time they looked at Jacob, and saw his tear-filled eyes and haggard loss of hope, they knew his pain was their own doing--it could not be denied! The pain that ate at his heart and soul also doubled back and struck their own hearts and souls--for they knew their guilt was great, and how on earth could it be wiped away?
Judah alone held forth hope to his brothers, as he had sinned greatly against their father in forsaking the House of Israel and intermarrying with the heathen woman of Chezib; he had suffered two sons’ deaths because of it, and might have lost his third son Shelah except that the boy’s heart, miraculously, was turned back to his father and he choose not to follow the ways of Chillelu and Hibishu which would have destroyed him as a follower of the Lord and a member of the holy household of Jacob.
Judah could say to them, which he did on a number of occasions when his brothers despaired of ever finding a way out of their guilt: “God will prepare a way out for us! Just wait! Did He not save me from my error and rebellious pride? Did he not save me from the hands of the heathen who hate our God?”
Since his brothers and half-brothers could not deny it was so--that Judah had been restored by the sovereign hand of God to their father’s bosom--they were somewhat comforted by Judah’s words.
But waiting, they found, was hard. Years, now a full thirteen, had passed, and still no end of the grief and sorrow of Jacob for his son Joseph! Still no end of their guilt and grief over what they had done to defraud their father of his favorite son! It was unbearable, and the signs of what they bore daily were evident in their bodies-- premature age lining their countenances and gray streaking their hair.
By this time it looked like they would go to their graves as guilty as the murderers they must be--having tried to kill Joseph, then selling him into slavery in Mizraim, which was the same as death, since no one sold into slavery there ever came out again as a free man.
Benjamin, Joseph’s brother? He was the youngest, and as the surviving son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, he was the favorite now since Joseph’s taking. Nothing of the conspiracy and the brothers’ guilt could be shared with him, consequently, or their father would hear of it instantly! They feared this above everything, that Jacob would find out their guilt and then punish them as they deserved.
Often, this brother or that one would give up, being crushed beyond endurance by guilt and unhappiness. “Let’s tell our father the truth! Tell him, and take his punishment. That will be better than living like this! I cannot bear it any longer!”
Yet Judah wouldn not permit it, though he was willing to be the first to confess and take the brunt of their father’s punishment. He always said to that brother, “But what of your wives and little ones? Why should they suffer for what you have done? To save yourself the pain of our guilty deed, you would submit them to our father’s wrath?”
“If only we hadn’t hated Joseph for his dreams, and tried to kill him!” Levi or Issachar would say in private to Judah--for, in the main, their hearts had always been more tender than other brothers'. “If only--”
“But it is no use thinking of that,” he reminded his brother each time he heard such words. “We must be men, and live with what we did, not try to wish it away.”
So the fact of their situation always stopped anyone from telling Jacob everything, since no one wanted to ruin their loved ones with their trouble--no, it was best, they saw, to go on the way they had gone, though it meant bearing an intolerable load of guilt and painful remorse.
When they were all together in Jacob’s tent, each wondering what their father had in mind, he said to them with a look of disbelief and impatience, “Why do you sit looking each at the other? You need to do something. I have heard there is grain in Mizraim. So get down there and buy what we need here to live, so that we don’t die!”
Put in a poor light as ineffectual leaders, some brothers started to protest, saying, “Oh, no, dear father--”, but Judah quickly raised his hand to them, and respecting him above even First-Born Reuben they quietly assented and obeyed their father, and instead discussed preparations for their going down to Mizraim. “We will go then, in three days time,” announced Reuben, standing and putting his hand on his belt. “We will buy what we need, and then return immediately.” Jacob paused, after taking tea handed him by Benjamin his favorite. He looked up at his First-Born, but his eyes were so narrow, and dim, that he could not possibly have seen him. “No, three days is too long. Go tomorrow at dawn! What do you need, take along; but do not loiter here any longer. My household cannot bear this famine. We must have more food!”
Sensing a rebuke, Reuben paled. He wavered, “But father, this is a long trip, to a dangerous country, and we need to gather many things. You don’t surely expect--”
“But you don’t need to prepare overly much, “ Jacob cut in. “You need no servants along to attend you, just go, the lot of you and do what you need to do! Why all this silly delay of three days? I forbid it! Go at once!”
Jacob had spoken, and there could be no disagreement at this point. Reuben folded his arms, and spoke humbly, his eyes fixed on the carpet at his feet.
“Father,” he spoke a last time, “at least provide servants to guard your son Benjamin. We ourselves will take no servants, as you have just instructed--”
At the mention of Benjamin, Jacob stiffened and struggled to rise. “What? What do you mean--that you intend to take Benjamin my son too? No! Never!”
Reuben was struck speechless. He nearly fell over backwards. When he found his voice, it was Judah who quickly intervened in the crisis and reached out and stayed his father. “Nay, dear father! Don’t upset yourself! We would never dream of taking your youngest of Rachel's womb. Our brother was just mistaken in his words, that is all.”
Before Reuben could bluster back at his brother with something in his self-defense, Judah rose, and the rest of the brothers arose, and that was a sign, and they all departed with a low bow to Father Jacob, leaving only Benjamin the favorite with their father.
“How could you mention taking Benjamin, his remaining consolation?” Judah’s expression plainly said to Reuben outside the tent. Reuben, shaking his head over his stupidity, ducked away, leaving the brothers looking at his fast-retreating form.
Judah was quick to command, and the others, except Reuben, quick to respond to him. “Choose your donkeys, decide which are strongest and able to carry the sacks of grain. Take a weapon to defend yourself, a blanket to sleep with, and some food for the journey for yourself and your beast. Then meet me at the oak outside the camp facing the Way of Shur the first thing in the morning! I will check to see if everything is in order for our going!”
Judah then strode off to his own tent, to see to his own household and his affairs. Going down to Mizraim was dangerous, with Gileadites laying in wait for the caravans, and other bandits and criminals preying on travellers as well.
Their small band would be fortunate to elude them all and arrive safely in Mizraim, but there was no way out of going. Everyone knew that with the famine continuing, they would soon all starve to death if they didn’t secure grain from Mizraim, the only source left in the wide world.