Joseph Tests His Brothers
The seven-year famine affected a large portion of the world, including area of Canaan where Jacob and his sons lived with their families. It wasn't too long before Jacob had to send his sons down to Egypt to purchase grain for the family. Benjamin stayed behind with his father. Jacob was not taking any chances with Rachel's last son.
Little did Jacob's sons know that they would be buying the grain from their brother Joseph. You may even wonder why they did not recognize Joseph. First, they would not expect to see Joseph as a ruler in Egypt. In addition, Joseph was dressed in Egyptian attire and spoke the Egyptian language (Genesis 42:23). Finally, a man's appearance changes quite a bit between the ages of 17 and 38.
While Joseph recognized his brothers, he chose not to reveal himself to them. His desire to remain anonymous was not for revenge, but because he did not trust his brothers. After all, these are the men who sold their own brother into slavery. Joseph decides to test his brothers before he tells them who he is. Joseph declares that his brothers are spies. The brothers, of course, deny the accusation. But in the course of explaining themselves, they mentioned they have a younger brother. This is Joseph's full brother who was just a youngster when Joseph was sold. I would suspect Joseph wondered if the brothers were treating his brother as they had treated him. Joseph insists on seeing Benjamin to prove that their story was not a fable.
Joseph then sends his brothers to prison for three days to think about his terms. On their release, Joseph offers them a compromise; one brother will remain in prison while the rest return for Benjamin.
The brothers are certain that this problem is retribution by God for their mistreatment of Joseph. Reuben essentially tells his brothers, "I told you so." This discussion takes place in front of Joseph. They did not realize that this Egyptian ruler was their brother and that Joseph understood everything they spoke in their Hebrew language. To Joseph, their admittance of guilt was amazing. He weeps with joy when he realizes his brothers are repentant of their past behavior. He had to leave the room until he regained his composure. However, he does not relent and keeps up his pretense.
Knowing that Reuben was not responsible for selling him, Joseph takes the second eldest brother and puts him in prison. Simeon was known for his cruelty, so it is not hard to imagine that he was the ring leader in Joseph's abduction.
The brothers leave Egypt with the grain, but without Simeon. On their journey back to Canaan, one brother discovers that his purchase money for the grain was placed in his sack, probably as he removed grain to feed the animals. Now the brothers are truly concerned. It appears that the Egyptian ruler is trying to frame them to support his claim that they are spies. If they return to Egypt, they would be facing additional charges of thievery.
On their arrival home, they explain to Jacob why Simeon was no longer with them and the terms they will have to meet in order to return to Egypt. As they unloaded the grain, they also discovered that all their purchase money was hidden in each man's sack
Jacob blames the remaining nine brothers for causing the loss of his two sons. There is no way he would trust such men with Benjamin's life. Reuben offers his own two sons as surety to Jacob so that he may get Simeon released, but Jacob refuses the offer. What satisfaction could a man gain from killing his own grandchildren if a third son is lost? Instead of looking noble for his offer, Reuben comes across as rash and foolish.
The brothers put off the return trip to Egypt as long as possible, but eventually the grain comes to an end. Simeon must not have been well loved as the brothers took their time returning to Egypt to free him. Jacob calls his sons and asks them to return and purchase a little food. Perhaps Jacob thought that a small transaction would not be noticed by the Egyptian officials. Judah now moves to the fore. Reuben has been disgraced, Simeon is in prison, and Levi is probably out of favor because of his violent past. Judah refuses to return unless the conditions requested by the Egyptian ruler can be met. Jacob is reluctant, but Judah insists and offers his own life as surety for Benjamin's life.
For the return trip, Israel sends double the money and a gift for the Egyptian ruler. Israel remains reluctant sending Benjamin, but he commits his problems to God's hand. His expression of resignation is similar to Job's in Job 1:21.
Once again the brothers appear before Joseph. When Joseph sees Benjamin, he invites the brothers to lunch. However, the brothers think they are being set up for further accusations. They believe the ruler will try to get them to relax and then accuse them, have them arrested, and then placed in slavery. When they get to Joseph's home, they try to explain to the head steward that a mistake was made and that they did not steal the money for the grain. The steward told them the money must have come from God because he had collected their money and nothing is owed. Take notice that an Egyptian is acknowledging the God of the Hebrews!
Simeon is brought out of prison and joins his brothers at the meal. When Joseph enters, the brothers bow in respect to him again. This is a second time they have done this, just as Joseph dreamed twice that they would bow to him. During the introductions, Joseph inquires about their father, but his longing for his family is too much for him. He quickly leaves the room to find a quiet place to cry. He then washes away the traces of his tears before he returns to the meal.
Those gathered for the meal are seated at three tables. One table is for Joseph, the second is for the Egyptians, and the third is for the Hebrews. The Egyptians considered other nations inferior and would not eat with them. As the brothers are seated, they notice a strange thing they had been seated according to age! These are grown men who were born in rapid succession, so strangers could not tell their ages simply by their appearance. (By the way, the odds of this happening by random chance with eleven people are 1 in 40 million.)
The next odd thing that happens is Benjamin is served five times as much food as the other brothers. Perhaps Joseph was continuing to test his brothers. Would the brothers show jealousy if one brother is shown special treatment as Joseph once was treated?
After the meal, the brothers make their purchase and begin their trip home. As before, their money is once again returned to them hidden in their sacks of grain. However, Joseph gives orders that his drinking cup is to be hidden in Benjamin's bag.
Joseph refers to this cup as his divination cup (Genesis 44:5, 15). This causes us some difficulty because it seems that Joseph is claiming to practice a form of sorcery. However, given his loyalty to God, this does not make sense. A more likely explanation is that Joseph simply calls it a divination cup to give greater weight to the importance of the missing cup and to keep his brothers from considering who truly was this ruler of Egypt. It is possible that the idea came from the Egyptians who thought that Joseph was a sorcerer to be able to know the future is such detail.
Joseph's men catch up with the brothers the next morning with orders to reclaim Joseph's cup. The brothers are shocked by the accusation. They know they are innocent and they point out that they even had tried to repay the money that was accidently returned to them on their prior trip. They had no need to steal a man's cup. They boldly state that if the cup is found, the man will become Joseph's personal servant. A search is made and the cup is found in Benjamin's bag.
This was too much for the brothers. The brothers return with Benjamin. Judah goes before Joseph and admits their error. What else can he say? The evidence shows the cup was stolen. Judah offers all the brothers as Joseph's slaves. However, Joseph insists that only Benjamin will remain as his slave. Judah then explains the promise he made to his father and how he could not return without Benjamin. Judah feared the shock would kill his father. He once again offers himself in the place of Benjamin (I John 3:16).
Judah's plea was too much for Joseph to ignore. He broke down and cried. His brothers had proven they had grown spiritually. He tells them that he is their brother Joseph. Instead of joy, the brothers are terrified. If this is Joseph, then what will he do to those who had sold him into slavery? However, Joseph calms their fears. He explains that God had sent him ahead to prepare a safe place for their family.
It is interesting to note that by sending the Israelites to Egypt, a country with extreme disdain for all foreigners, the Israelites would not be scattered among the current nations. As their numbers grew, they would remain as one people. It was a chance for God to form them into a nation.
Joseph tells the brothers that the famine will continue for five more years. He insists that they move to Egypt. When Pharaoh is told of the events, he, too, insists on inviting Joseph's family to Egypt. He even told them not to bother packing everything because Egypt would supply their needs. Gifts are sent back to prove their good intentions.
When Jacob learns what has happened, he at first cannot believe the brothers' story. However when they tell him all the details and show him all the wagons Joseph sent to carry everything back, he declares he needs no other encouragement. He will see his son before he dies. Notice how quickly Jacob believed Joseph's death, but how slowly he accepts Joseph's life.