Kindness is sometimes revenge, though revenge was not Joseph’s motive in dealing with his long-lost brothers.
There is a leadership vacuum in the family, at a time when leadership is needed.
Old man Jacob must ask his 10 sons to act thoughtfully about the famine problem. Going to Egypt was dangerous, but it needed to be done. Why do you look at one another is as strong an accusation at their slothfulness and lack of manly courage, as possible. The road to Egypt has been haunting them for years, it reminds them of selling out their younger brother and then lying about it to their father. All the brothers minus Benjamin are sent to Egypt and Jacob’s true feelings are made known, he favors Benjamin, now in his early 20’s, and not them.
The road to Egypt was crowded with many travellers from all over the world coming to buy what the Egyptian Prime Minister was selling.
Food anxiety is a serious pyschological problem. If that kind of paranoia works it’s way into culture, violence and revolt will surely follow. Joseph’s job is to make sure that never happens, and by all testimony, he’s great at his job, which requires a keen eye and hands-on approach. While on the lookout for trouble, the unthinkable takes place, Joseph spots his brothers.
In a eery and breathtaking way the text says, his brothers came and bowed before him with their faces to the ground (v.6), a literal fulfillment of his childhood dream.
Joseph is at least 37 years old by now. He was at least 17 when sold into slavery, spent 13 years with Potipher, and now at least 7 years of plenty have gone by, it’s possible he closer to 40.
Joseph looked like a Prime Minister, acted like the royal he was, and was surrounded by all the trappings of power and wealth. By now he is fluid in Egyptian language, and has been an Egyptian longer than he was in his father’s house. He speaks harshly to them, and three times accuses them of being spies. Historically Joseph does well to keep his eyes on the north, for more than one army through the years has gone on the long march south and attempted to take the glories of Egypt as their own.
In a bold face lie, the brothers say to Joseph they are honest men, and he cuts them off and mows them down.
In a string of continual thought the brothers share with Joseph that Jacob and Benjamin are alive and well back home. They say to Joseph, and one is no more, and it stung, since they are referring to him, so Joseph throws them into a holding chamber for three days, and invokes the name of Pharoah, creating a legal and binding law on the spot, letting them know they are not going home unless Benjamin, Joseph’s true brother, arrives at Egypt.
On the third day, it’s obvious Joseph regained his composure and prayed about what to do. For I fear God is not idle talk for him.
One brother will remain in custody the whole time, while the other 9 walk all the back to Hebron, and bring Benjamin, now a twenty-something, back to Egypt. Joseph knew they were liars and could be lying the whole time. The game is on, the brothers know Jacob suspected them of foul play all these years but could not prove it, now they must do the unthinkable, ask Jacob to part with the last son he truly loves, and entrust that son to those who conspired against their father for more than twenty years.
Chilling are Joseph’s words, So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.
No Translator Needed
The brothers, thinking Joseph couldn’t understand them, began speaking openly to each other about their guilt, and it breaks Joseph’s heart.
The early account of Joseph being thrown into the pit comes with no details, but they are given here. In truth we are guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the distress in his soul, when he begged us, we did not listen. 17 year old Joseph begged his brothers to not throw him away, but they did it anyway because they despised him, but God’s strong hand would not allow Joseph to stay in the pit.
Rueben defends himself, but his words land flat since he could’ve stopped the whole affair.
Joseph, hearing them speak in his native tongue and clueless about his identity, turns aside and weeps.
Then with some degree of payback, he binds Simeon as a slave, and does so before their eyes, and puts him custody. Simeon now gets a small taste of his own medicine.
Messing With Their Heads
Joseph ordered their bags filled with grain and their money placed back into their bags, causing the brothers to sense God was after them.
The dialogue is classic ancient tribal manner of speaking. Rueben as the oldest addresses his father and tells the story, Jacob as father then accuses Rueben of incompetence and of breaking his heart. Those things are actually true. Rueben response of somehow leaving his sons with Jacob as a guarantor is worthless, and is a sign of desperation.
Regarding taking Benjamin back to Egypt, Jacob’s lament is real, If harm should come to him on the journey you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.
He likely wept.