Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:36-38

36 And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.

37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.

38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

It seems that Reuben was in favor of immediately returning to Egypt, proving that their youngest brother existed, and getting Simeon out of bondage. But this was a risk too great for Jacob. He had lost one son, and now a second, and he would rather cut his losses here than risk losing a third!

Reuben still contends the matter, though. Simeon is Reuben’s blood brother, both being the sons of Leah. Simeon was also the very next son born after Reuben, the nearest to him of all his brethren. Thus, of all his brothers, Simeon might be the one that Reuben has the most motivation to get free.

Perhaps the brothers had evil intentions towards Joseph in the past, but Reuben makes it clear that he harbors no such ill will for Benjamin. He is willing to put his own sons on the line, committing them to death if he doesn’t keep his promise and bring Benjamin back safe and sound! With such an oath we can be sure he truly intended to let no harm come to the boy.

And in Reuben’s oath there seems to be a messianic representation. A father is willing to put the life of his own son on the line in order to save another child. It is a moving offer, yet it is not enough to sway Jacob. For even if Reuben’s heart is in the right place, and he will not personally cause harm to Benjamin, he cannot claim to have power over all the other factors in the world. He could really try his best to preserve his younger brother, but mischief might still “befall him by the way.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:35

35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

One of the brothers had opened his sack of grain on the way home and found his money restored, but apparently the others did not check theirs until they were all gathered before their faither. Now they see that all of them have had their money returned to them and it fills them with dread.

On the one hand, they might rightly assume that this is a trick by that suspicious head Egyptian, Zaphnath-paaneah, who sold them the grain. And based on his attitude towards the brothers earlier, it would seem likely Zaphnath had done this to entrap them, rather than as a kindness. Indeed, they will suggest as much in the very next chapter.

Or, on the other hand, it might have ended up in their grain as a mistake, in which case the Egyptians might have found the imbalance in their ledgers, and then they might assume the brothers had somehow stolen their money back again. In either case, the presence of this money is a disturbing turn of events, giving the Egyptians ample reason to persecute them further.

The prospect of going back to Egypt thus becomes so distasteful, that they won’t even attempt it until they are once again at starvation’s door in the next chapter. Indeed, if it weren’t for the shadow of death upon them, perhaps Simeon would never have been retrieved. He would have been left by his brothers to rot in prison, just as Joseph.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:29-34

29 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,

30 The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

31 And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:

32 We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.

33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:

34 And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.

The brothers make it back home and now they have to tell their father what transpired. Yes, they have the grain, but at what cost? And this, of course, is not the first time that they have returned to their father with a tragic report. Once, more than twenty years ago, they came to tell him that his son had been ravaged by a beast, now they inform him that another son is bound in prison.

And while it might appear that the brothers couldn’t possibly be responsible for the misfortune in Egypt, they actually are. If it felt like the foreign ruler had some strange vendetta against them it’s because he really did, and though they don’t know it, they have only themselves to blame for it.

The perpetually guilty may very well portray themselves as perpetually unfortunate, but sooner or later the mask starts to wear thin, and one begins to wonder if the always-unlucky isn’t actually creating his own bad luck. And as we will see in Jacob’s response, he is not about to give these troublesome sons the benefit of the doubt.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:25-28

25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth.

28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?

Joseph had given a strict command to his brothers. Either they could return with Benjamin, or they would never see Simeon again or be welcome back in Egypt. These facts give them a strong incentive to return with their youngest brother.

Now, though, Joseph tips the scales the other way. By putting the money back in their sacks, he gives himself a reason to accuse them of being thieves. Now, even if the brothers follow Joseph’s instructions to the letter, they can expect to still be in hot water. Thus, they are strongly incentivized to not return.

It seems likely to me that Joseph’s reasoning is to fully test their commitment to Simeon. Are they willing to come back for their brother, even when it is to their own peril, or will they abandon him for their own self-interest, just as they did with Joseph all those years ago? Do they regret what they did in the past, and have they changed so that they would not do it again? As it turns out, Joseph will have to wait a little while longer to get the answers to those questions.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:21-24

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.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:17-20

17 And he put them all together into ward three days.

18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:

19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:

20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

Yesterday I wondered whether Joseph’s brothers had the option to just leave Egypt without any grain, but today’s verses suggest not! They are all put into prison as Joseph finalizes his plans for them.

What must they have thought during those three days of imprisonment? I would imagine it was a frightening ordeal with an uncertain future. So far as we know, they had never been subjected to a confinement such as this. I imagine that if I were in their shoes, I might have a strong sense of being treated unfairly. After all, they were innocent of what they had been accused of, so they were being imprisoned unjustly.

Except it wasn’t quite that simple, was it? They were innocent of the crime Joseph had accused them of, that of being spies, but they were deserving of imprisonment for other reasons. They had betrayed their brother and sent him to be unjustly imprisoned, and so, according to the balance of justice, they deserved to be imprisoned also. And as we will see in tomorrow’s verses, this sense of karmic retribution was not lost upon them at all.

What a relief it must have been for the brothers when Joseph came and lessened his earlier demands. He tells them that he fears God, which presumably is meant to assure him that he is a man of his word, and that if they follow his instructions, they can trust him to keep his end of a bargain. Then, instead of requiring all but one of them to stay in prison while the other is sent to retrieve Benjamin, he reverses the ratio. Only one brother must stay imprisoned, and all the others are free to go retrieve the missing brother. Not only this, but he will even send them home with the grain that they came to buy in the first place.

Given the alternatives mentioned before, it is an offer they can’t afford to refuse.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:14-16

14 And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:

15 Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.

16 Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.

Joseph repeats his accusation that they are spies. He suggests that their story is clearly false, and that he cannot believe it unless they bring the one brother out of eleven that is absent. In other words, “if you expect me to believe that all ten of you are brothers in one family, then bring along another member of your kin to confirm it.”

The account from earlier in Joseph’s life seem to suggest that Benjamin was born before Joseph was sold into Egypt, so this was presumably not a ploy to meet the lad for the first time. Several have speculated that Joseph’s chief concern might have been instead to ascertain that Benjamin was well taken care of. After all, he had very personal reasons to distrust the sons of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, and the way they behaved towards the sons of Rachel.

The solution that Joseph suggests is extreme. Keep all of the brothers in imprisonment, except for one, who will be permitted to go and retrieve the youngest brother, Benjamin. Only if the storied son is revealed will all the others be allowed to go free.

What isn’t clear is whether Joseph is giving the brothers any alternative. If they didn’t agree to this exchange, would they have been free to leave, just without any of the grain they needed? Or were they locked into the situation now, whether they liked it or not?

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:9-13

9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

10 And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.

11 We are all one man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.

12 And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

13 And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.

It seems a sudden and strange accusation to call this group of men traitors. Obviously, Joseph knows that his brothers have a sneaky and destructive streak, not only because of how they treated him, but because of their tricking and slaughtering the men in the city of Shalem. But it seems doubtful to me that he genuinely expects his brothers to be here for anything other than buying the grain as they have claimed. More likely it seems to me that he was casting around for a reason to keep them engaged with him for a while longer. To what end, perhaps even he does not yet know, only that he will keep them in play until he can decide what to do with them.

The response of Joseph’s brothers, doubling down on their heritage makes me wonder if they felt the appearance of ten men together was what Joseph had found suspicious. Did they think he saw this was an excessive emissary to buy grain, and so they needed to explain why so many of them were here together?

Unfortunately we don’t have any explicit insights into either party’s inner thoughts in this exchange. Regardless, in the brothers’ haste to explain themselves, they let slip some crucial information that Joseph will be able to use in his charade. One of their brothers is absent, and one of their brothers “is not.” Now he can turn the focus of the conversation to the matter of missing brothers and prove where their hearts are on the matter.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:7-9

7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.

8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

The fulfillment of his visions is not lost on Joseph, and he reflects on them, according to verse 9. He has been greatly blessed during this last decade by God, and now here is the culmination of his reward for having trusted in the Lord. Joseph remained faithful, even when things went against him for so very, very long, and God has not forgotten His long ago promises.

One thing of note is that Joseph recognizes his brethren, but they do not recognize him. Obviously, it would be easier to recognize a group of ten men, than a single one in isolation, and presumably Joseph has been made to look very different, likely adopting Egyptian standards of dress and grooming. But I also think the lack of recognition in Joseph’s brothers goes to show what a very different man he has become. He has grown, matured, and become powerful. Joseph has gone through a metamorphosis, such that he is a new creature in God.

But Joseph’s brothers? It’s been at least twenty years since he saw them, and they are still recognizable as the same beings that they were before. As we will see, they have matured to some degree from what they were before, but generally they are much the same.

The hope of each of us should be that we are transformed, turned into a more wonderful person, even to the point of being unrecognizable from our past self. Honestly, it would be tragic to instead remain as the same person that we always were, never growing and never evolving. To be purified is divine and to remain stagnant is base.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:6

6 And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.

I imagine that Joseph needed to set up some sort of delegation, distributing the work of storing and selling the grain to a whole army of workers. But evidently he didn’t delegate his way out of the process entirely. He was still integral to the operation, apparently being responsible for negotiating the sales with foreign customers.

And here, at last, we find the fulfillment of Joseph’s prophecy from many years ago. We know he was seventeen when he had his dreams, thirty when he was taken out of prison by Pharaoh, that seven years of bounty had already passed, and some amount of time in famine before Jacob’s sons came to buy grain. Thus, over twenty years had passed since Joseph first related his dreams to his brothers, which showed that they would come and bow to him.

Which goes to show that the Lord’s timing is on a far different timescale from our own. There is no sense of “too long” since the promise was given, no expiration, no distance of time or status that render His word invalid. The sequence of events that had transpired to bring this prophecy to pass were impossible to anticipate, there was no “lucky guessing” on Joseph’s part to prophesy of it. This development could only have been foretold by an omniscient being who had already seen all that would be.