And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:
I have, of late, been rereading the story of Joseph because... well... why not? It is one of my favorites.
This set of verses (42:8-9) today struck me when compared with Reuben's offer just the chapter before. The family was running low on food and needed to return to Egypt for more, but Jacob did not want to allow Benjamin to make the journey. (It seems he didn't exactly trust his boys.) But Joseph had made it very clear that no Benjamin equaled no food.
Reuben graciously offered his two boys (or two of his boys?) as a surety, telling Jacob that if something should happen to Benjamin, he could kill his boys. What kind of offer was that? (If they were teenagers maybe Reuben was like, "Please. Have at them." But in all seriousness...) It wasn't much of a pledge. Did Reuben really say that if harm befell Benjamin Jacob could kill his grandsons? And this was supposed to assure him?
Then Judah offered himself as a surety. And Jacob, albeit grudgingly, consented.
Earlier in our tale Reuben obviously was shifting some (most?) of the blame for selling Joseph to his brothers. "And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required." Was he rationalizing (or trying to rationalize) is guilt away? Perhaps he thus felt less remorse than his brothers; if so, maybe it's not surprising that he was willing to give less to assure Benjamin's safe return.
What are we to learn from contrasting these two? I think Judah's offering shows that his heart had softened. Where he had been a ringleader in Joseph's selling, now he is a leader in saving not only Benjamin but all of Jacob's starving family.
We also learn that showing you have skin in the game is important when you want to persuade people to listen to you. And finally... don't offer your (teenage?) sons as collateral; everyone can see through that.