Family reunion, Joseph and brothers
Joseph’s brothers bow to him1 Jacob heard there was grain for sale in Egypt. So he told his sons, “Why are you standing here doing nothing? 2 Look, I’ve heard there’s grain for sale in Egypt. Go there and buy some so we won’t starve to death.” 3 Joseph’s 10 older brothers did just that. They left for Egypt to buy grain. 4 Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin, didn’t go with them. Jacob wouldn’t let him go because he was afraid something bad might happen to him.
5 Jacob’s sons joined others in the area on a caravan that went to Egypt. 6 Joseph was governor of Egypt. During this drought, he personally managed the grain sales. So when his brothers arrived, they bowed to him, lowering their faces toward the ground.
Joseph pretends he doesn't recognize his brothers7 Joseph recognized them, but he tried to hide his identity by speaking in a harsh voice, “Where are you from?” They said, “We came from Canaan to buy some grain.” 8 Though Joseph recognized his brothers, they didn’t have a clue who he was.
9 Suddenly Joseph remembered the dreams he had about them years ago. “You are spies,” he told them. “You have come here to scout our defenses.”
10 “Absolutely not, governor,” they said. “We are your devoted servants. We came to buy grain. 11 We’re all brothers, the sons of one man. We’re your servants. We’re not spies.”
12 Joseph pressed them, “That’s not true. You came to study our defenses.”
13 But they insisted, “We are your servants. There are 12 of us, all brothers. We’re the sons of a man living in Canaan. Our youngest brother is with our father. And one other brother is dead.”
14 Joseph said, “You are spies. I have no doubt about it. 15 But I’m going to put your story to the test. You’re not going to leave here unless your youngest brother comes. I swear this on Pharaoh’s life. 16 I’ll let just one of you go to get your brother. But all the rest of you are staying here in lock up. I’ll find out if you’re telling me the truth. If you’re not, I swear by the life of Pharaoh, I’ll know you are spies.”
17 Joseph put them all in prison for three days. 18 On the third day Joseph told them, “I’m a believer in God who wants to do the right thing. So if you do what I tell you, I’ll let you live. 19 If you’re as honest as you say you are, decide which one of you will stay here in prison. I’ll let the rest of you go home with grain for your families during this drought. 20 If you come back with your youngest brother, I’ll know you’ve been telling me the truth. I’ll let you live.” They agreed.
Joseph cries21 The brothers, talking among themselves, said, “We’re getting what we deserve because of what we did to our brother. We saw the horror in his eyes when he begged us for his life. But we ignored him.”
22 Reuben said, “Didn’t I tell you not to do it? I said, ‘Don’t commit this terrible sin against the boy.’ But you wouldn’t listen to me. Now we have to answer for the life we took.”
23 The brothers didn’t realize Joseph knew their language and understood what they were saying. That’s because Joseph spoke to them in Egyptian, through an interpreter. 24 He turned his back to them and quietly cried. He composed himself and briefly spoke to them. Then he had Simeon arrested, tied up, and taken away.
Joseph's brothers head home, with extra grain25 Joseph ordered his servants to fill the brothers’ sacks with grain. He also ordered them to secretly put inside those sacks the money they had used to buy the grain. He gave his brothers supplies for the trip, too. 26 Jacob’s sons loaded the sacks of grain and supplies onto their donkeys and left.
27 When they stopped for the night, one of the brothers opened a sack of grain to feed his donkey. Right there are the top of the sack sat the money he had used to buy the grain. 28 He told the others, “Someone gave me back my grain money. They put it right in the grain sack.” This terrified the men. They were actually trembling in fear and asking each other, “What has God done to us?”
29 When the brothers got home to Canaan, they told their father Jacob everything that happened to them. 30 They said, “The governor got mad at us. He accused us of spying. 31 But we said, ‘We’re honest men, not spies. 32 We’re 12 brothers, the sons of one man. One of our brothers is dead and the youngest is back in Canaan with our father.’
Joseph holds a brother hostage33 The governor said, ‘Prove it. Here’s how I’ll tell if you’re honest or not. I’ll keep one of you here with me. The rest of you can go home and take grain back to your families during this drought. 34 Then you need to come back and bring your youngest brother. That’s how I’ll know if you’re telling me the truth. When you do that, I’ll give you back the brother I kept, and you’ll be free to do business in our land.’”
35 Later, as the brothers started emptying their sacks of grain for storage, they discovered each man’s bag of money hidden inside the grain sacks. This stunned Jacob and his sons. 36 Jacob told his sons, “Look at what you have done to me. You have robbed me of two sons. Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin. It feels like everyone is out to get me.”
37 Reuben told his father, “If I don’t bring Benjamin safely back to you, I’ll let you kill my two sons. Trust me with him. I’ll bring him back.”
38 Jacob said, “Not a chance. He’s not going with you. His brother is already dead. He’s the only one left of Rachel’s sons. If anything happened to him on the trip, you’d be sending an old, white-haired man to an early grave, grieving.
Israel and Palestinian Territories.
After seven years of bumper crops in Egypt and now into the beginning of a drought, 80-year-old Jacob living up in what is now Israel complains to his sons “Why are you standing here doing nothing? (42:1). He tells them to go to Egypt and buy some grain. When you read this and the other exchanges between Jacob and his 10 sons, what clues do you see about what their relationship may have been like?
All 10 of Joseph’s older brothers come down to Egypt to buy grain. Why do you think it took all 10? And why do you think they didn’t take Benjamin, who may have been in his 20s—just a guess, since the Bible doesn’t say how old he was?
Take a look at the feature below. Do you think Joseph unleashed the payback on his brothers to track with what they had done to him, perhaps giving them clues to his identity? Or do you think the parallel was more of a coincidence?
A TASTE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE
Brothers: “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (37:4 New International Version).
Joseph: “He spoke harshly and asked, ‘Where do you come from?’” (42:7 Contemporary English Version).
Accused of spying
Brothers: Accused him of being a spy for their father. “He was always telling his father all sorts of bad things about his brothers” (37:2 Contemporary English Version).
Joseph: “You are spies! You’ve come here to find out where our country is weak” (42:9 Contemporary English Version).
Brothers: “Let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders” (37:27 New Living Translation).
Joseph: He threw them into jail for three days (42:17 Message).
Joseph decided to hold Simeon as a hostage until his brothers came back with Benjamin. The Genesis writer doesn’t tell us why Joseph chose Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. What do you think might have been the main reason Joseph picked him?
- “He’s nasty. He led a spiteful raid on the village of Shechem, massacring all the men in retaliation for the prince raping their sister, Dinah” (34:25).
- “He’s the second oldest son of Jacob. Joseph decided not to arrest the oldest, Reuben, because in overhearing the brothers talking, it sounded like Reuben had not signed off on selling Joseph” (42:22).
What do you think we can read into the report that Joseph secretly arranges for his brothers to get back all the money they paid for the grain?
When Joseph held Simeon, do you think he gave any thought to how his elderly father would react when the nine sons came back without the number two son? Or do you think Joseph was making it up as he goes, and acting more on emotion than on reason?
LIFE APPLICATION. The damage that Joseph’s brothers did to their family was more extensive than most of us can relate to. But there are stories out there of individuals who inflict incredible pain on their families. What stories of this sort come to mind that you’ve read about in the news or perhaps experienced yourself or through someone close to you? And what does it take to recover from that kind of devastation?
LIFE APPLICATION. Joseph was getting some payback. But in the process, he lost it: “He turned his back to them and quietly cried” (42:24). What does payback feel like when we are talking about payback to the people we love?