21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. 22 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. 23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter. 24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
Joseph’s test yields its first fruits. The brothers see the punishment as the working of karma, compensating them for their crimes against Joseph, and they are even more right in that thought than they realize!
We also learn an interesting detail in verse 21 about the time that Joseph’s brothers betrayed him. In the original account we heard nothing of Joseph’s reaction, but here we learn that he begged them for deliverance, in anguish, and they refused to listen.
Joseph is deeply moved to hear the brothers speak of that traumatic event, and perhaps this is the first he is learning of Reuben’s failed attempts to spare him. Now he knows that there is some remorse among his brothers, though how far it extends he has yet to prove.
And so, he continues with his stated plan. It is interesting to note which of his brothers he selects for bondage. Reuben might have been the most dramatic choice, given that he was the eldest, but he is the one that has shown the most remorse so far. Simeon was the second eldest, and one of the first to sully himself when he and Levi slaughtered the men of Shalem.
Whether those were the actual reasons that Joseph selected Simeon, or if it was something else, we do not know. But in any case, he made an impressive show of it, having Simeon bound right in front of his brothers, a grim warning to all the others not to cross Joseph.