THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM – PART VIII - SECTION III
JOSEPH AND HIS
BROTHERS MEET AGAIN
I. Chapters 42 through 45 record the reunification and (partial) reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers.
A. As the episodes begin, Joseph has been in Egypt for about 20 to 21 years (Twelve years before serving Pharaoh, seven years of plenty, a year of famine, and possibly a year before the predictions started coming true.) Including the time it took for the Ishmaelites to get to Egypt to sell Joseph there, it has been about 21 – 22 years since the other brothers sold Joseph.
- Judah would
have just returned from his absence from the family of Jacob.
Joseph was about 40 at this point, Benjamin about 22 or 23, and the
other brothers in their 40s. Dinah seems to be out of the picture.
B. The drama unfolds in three basic scenes: the first journey to Egypt and Joseph's initial hiddenness and testing; the scene in the household of Jacob as he is forced to overcome his reluctance to send Benjamin to Egypt; and the second journey to Egypt, resulting in the disclosure of Joseph to his brothers.
1. As the scenes
continue, there are two developments. First, the brothers gradually
come to a recollection and awareness of their guilt. Second, Judah
begins to take the leadership role, which his tribe will keep.
2. The text presents
Jacob as a character we have sympathy with, but also as one who is still
playing favorites, this time with Benjamin.
1. The Church
fathers, and one line of Jewish thought, tend to argue that, through
the testing and the worries about false allegations and the loss of
a brother, Joseph is reminding them of their own guilt in order to bring
them to repentance. See, e.g., Caesarius of Arles Sermons on Genesis
91:6; St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 64:11.
II. The first meeting is occasioned by a famine in Canaan as well and Egypt. In an encounter that it seems neither side anticipates, Joseph forces his brothers to confront their guilt and promise to return, without ever revealing his identity.
A. The encounter opens with the famine spreading to Canaan and Jacob reasserting control of the situation.
1. It is clear
that the brothers are uncertain what to do, and so Jacob must take change.
2. It is also
clear that, unlike Pharaoh, neither they nor their neighbors have saved
for an emergency, indicating both that God had not warned them and that
saving out of prudence was not generally practiced, possibly because
of the possibility of theft.
3. Jacob keeps
Benjamin with him despite the fact that Benjamin is fully an adult.
Jacob now prefers Benjamin as the only remaining son of his beloved
1. The implication is that either: (1) the neighboring nations may be plotting to invade Egypt to seize the stores; or (2) a larger nation, most likely the Syrian or Babylonian, may be thinking about invading Egypt to gain the wealth.
- The first
war of which we have any real records occurred between Egyptian and
Syrian forces in Mediggo (later called Armegeddon) in the north of what
was to become Israel.
3. In any case,
the brothers defend themselves by referring to the family in terms that
are true, but conceal what became of the one brother whom they describe
as lost. The idea is that a country sending spies would not send
ten brothers from one family.
D. Joseph then initially proposes that they must stay in captivity, sending only one of their number back to get Jacob and Benjamin. It seems that, after three days, he changes his mind and sends all but one back, possibly to reduce Jacob's anxieties and possibly because the one brother who is sent back may not make it.
1. It is becoming
clearer that Joseph s very anxious about Benjamin, who is his only full
2. The brothers
agree to the arrangement, but are very anxious, probably because they
do not know whether they will be able to get Jacob to send Benjamin
back. In addition, Joseph has not yet revealed which one will
be left behind.
3. The brothers recognize their guilt, a recognition that Joseph overhears. At this point, Joseph is overcome by emotion. He may want to be reconciled immediately, and realize fully the sorrow Jacob will feel, but he thinks that he must carry out his plan. He must also decide which brother to keep.
speaks angrily to his brothers, excusing himself partially at least
from the guilt of betraying Joseph. It is true that he did not
wish to harm Joseph. However, he exaggerates how much he opposed
- Here as
so often in human thought, guilt lies hidden for years, but is never
4. Joseph has
Simeon bound and kept. The text does not mention the reason.
It is possible that he thought of Simeon as the leader, for Simeon and
Levi had inspired the attack upon the city of Shechem.
E. Joseph then uses another stratagem, having their money placed back into their sacks. He may have meant the maneuver to be generous and make sure they would have enough resources, but it could also have possibly to confuse the brothers and to be sure that they would return.
- When the brothers open their bags, they and then Jacob are worried that the Egyptians will think that they stole the money back again.
III. When the brothers return to Jacob, he at first does not want to let Benjamin return to Egypt, but is persuaded to do so by circumstances and the advice and offer of Judah.
A. When the brothers tell Jacob of Joseph's demand that Benjamin return, Jacob refuses, worried that the arrangement is simply an attempt to deprive him of all his children.
- Rueben makes
a well-intentioned, but foolish offer that his own two sons may be killed
if they do not bring Benjamin back. Jacob is too intelligent and
too just to place any value on that promise. The episode indicates
that Rueben is simply unable to take the leadership role, for he lacks
the ability to judge what is both just and persuasive.
B. However, the famine is continuing a year later, and the situation demands a change in plans from Jacob
1. At first,
Jacob wants to send his ten sons again, but this time to request only
"a little food." It does appear from the offering of fruits,
nuts and honey, that he will later ell his sons to bring that he does
have some provisions in the land. The problem may have been more
with feeding the cattle.
he argues that Jacob and his people, including Benjamin may well starve
to death if they do not return to Egypt.
C. Jacob agrees with the plan and, still asserting authority, sends his sons back with not only the money for this journey and the last purchase, but with additional gifts of food and spices.
2. Then Jacob finally invokes the name of God (El Shaddai – God Almighty) and a willingness to suffer if God wills it. The crisis has forced Jacob to rely again on God.
IV. The now eleven brothers then journey back to Egypt for what will be the grand reunification. The encounter goes at first well, but only to set up the test with Benjamin and Judah.
A. Joseph at first both shows them honor by having them dine with him in his house, but also lets them wonder what is going on.
1. By having
them stay at his house and dine with him, Joseph is showing them great
honor. In addition, as the text will later indicate, because Egyptians
did not dine with outsiders, Joseph is beginning to show himself as
united with them.
2. The Egyptian
servants must have wondered exactly what was going on. Some of
them had probably made inquiries and discovered that Joseph had been
brought as a slave to Egypt from the area around Canaan; and they may
have thought that he was greeting people he knew, or even begun to guess
at the full truth.
3. However, Joseph's
brothers are understandably anxious at being separated from the rest
of the people who are coming to buy provisions. And so they jump
in with a defense of their own possession of the money that was supposed
to have been the price for the food given a year earlier.
B. The chief steward then puts them at ease by referring to the reappearance of their money as a miracle rendered by their God and the God of their father.
1. It is noteworthy
that the steward (who no doubt knew the truth) wants them to be confident
in the true God, which he personally probably thinks of only as an outside
power. Sometimes God can send people outside of the faith to draw
His own people back to the faith.
C. The steward then
treats them as honored guests and they begin to proceed with the original
plan of giving gifts to him, as Jacob had instructed. But still
they remember to bow low, for they know that they are simply guests
of their powerful protector, who holds all the cards.