SynopsisAs we read in the last chapter, there is now famine in Egypt, and the Egyptians have been buying grain back from Joseph. But the famine is not restricted to Egypt; Jacob and his remaining sons are also experiencing it.
When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (verses 1–2)He doesn’t send all of his sons, though; the older sons go to Egypt, but Jacob keeps Benjamin, his youngest, with him. He has already lost Joseph, and doesn’t want to lose Benjamin too.
They try to convince Joseph that they are not spies, but he seemingly won’t listen. Finally, he devises a test for them: They have to return home, and then come back to Egypt, bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin with them. Surely this must seem odd to the brothers, but they don’t know what to do. And their first thought is about their brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery:
As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
“No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”
“No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
Interestingly, although the brothers had simply sold Joseph into slavery, they seem to assume that he’s dead. Or maybe they just never told Reuben the whole story, and he thinks Joseph is dead, just like Jacob does.
They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”
Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!” (verse 36)Reuben tries to convince Jacob that they have to go back to Egypt, or they won’t see Simeon again, but Jacob refuses to listen. Reuben even tells Jacob that Jacob can put both of Reuben’s sons to death, if Simeon and Benjamin don’t return, but that doesn’t convince him. (Not surprisingly, in my mind; what kind of satisfaction would that give Jacob, if it came to that? “My sons are dead, I guess I’ll kill my grandsons, too!”)