42 Jacob found out that there was grain in Egypt. So he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at one another?” 2 He continued, “I’ve heard there’s grain in Egypt. Go down there. Buy some for us. Then we’ll live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain there. 4 But Jacob didn’t send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with them. He was afraid Benjamin might be harmed. 5 Israel’s sons were among the people who went to buy grain. There wasn’t enough food in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was the governor of the land. He was the one who sold grain to all its people. When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them. But he pretended to be a stranger. He spoke to them in a mean way. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan,” they replied. “We’ve come to buy food.” 8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. 9 Then Joseph remembered his dreams about them. So he said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the places where our land isn’t guarded very well.” 10 “No, sir,” they answered. “We’ve come to buy food. 11 All of us are the sons of one man. We’re honest men. We aren’t spies.” 12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see the places where our land isn’t guarded very well.” 13 But they replied, “We were 12 brothers. All of us were the sons of one man. He lives in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is now with our father. And one brother is gone.” 14 Joseph said to them, “I still say you are spies! 15 So I’m going to test you. And here’s the test. You can be sure that you won’t leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. You can be just as sure of this as you are sure that Pharaoh lives. I give you my word that you won’t leave here unless your brother comes. 16 Send one of you back to get your brother. The rest of you will be kept in prison. I’ll test your words. Then we’ll find out whether you are telling the truth. You can be sure that Pharaoh lives. And you can be just as sure that if you aren’t telling the truth, we’ll know that you are spies!” 17 So Joseph kept all of them under guard for three days.
I can understand Joseph being taken aback at seeing his brothers after more than 20 years. I expect it brought all sorts of painful memories: to the point of being killed out of jealousy over a coat and a dream, then sold into slavery.
He could have revenge now. He clearly has the power to have them thrown into gaol (as he had been). Perhaps he’s tempted, but his reaction is sorrow not hatred as he hears them talking. No, not revenge.
But he doesn’t embrace them either. Not yet.
Once trust is broken, it is very hard to rebuild. It requires taking big risks: becoming vulnerable to being betrayed again, hurt again. Joseph is treading this path very cautiously. (He was very badly betrayed the first time.)
I can understand his apprehension. That dream had been prophetic about the situation he and they were now in. How would they respond? Would they hate him for it again?
Jacob hasn’t changed. He’s ready to leave Simeon in gaol in Egypt rather than risk Benjamin, his new favourite. (A warning for parents here.) In chapter 44 we will see Judah now prepared to offer himself in order to protect Benjamin. We have to wait for chapter 45 for the longed for reconciliation.
Jesus, thank you for making yourself vulnerable to reconcile me. Give me the courage to risk trust where I’ve been hurt, to risk being hurt again to be reconciled with those who hurt me.
Written by David Cornell