Christian Churches of God
(Edition 2.0 20030202-20070128)
As a result of the famine in the land of Egypt, Joseph’s brothers come before him for the first time in thirteen years to ask for food. Although he recognizes his brothers, Joseph does not make himself known to them at first. Nevertheless, Joseph is eventually reunited with his brothers and his father.
Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt
The famine had spread to other nations beyond Egypt, and the house of Jacob in Canaan was no exception. For this reason, when Jacob saw that his remaining ten sons were not going out to Egypt where supplies could be purchased, he asked them, “Why do you look at one another? Indeed I have heard there is grain in Egypt” (Gen. 42:1-2).
Remember from previous studies, Jacob’s other sons had told him that a wild animal had killed Joseph. Because Jacob did not want any harm to come to the only son thought to be alive through his dead wife Rachel, Jacob kept Benjamin behind while the other ten brothers set out towards Egypt (Gen. 42:3-5).
Upon their arrival in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers came before him bowing with their faces humbly toward the ground. They did this as a mark of respect for an important man. We can recall from the story in Part 1 that Joseph was second in command under the Pharaoh of Egypt. Joseph knew who they were and he remembered the dream he had as a young boy – that his brothers were bowing down to him. So that dream had finally come true (Gen. 42:6-9).
They did not recognize their brother Joseph after so many years, because he was a young boy when they sold him into slavery and now he was a grown man. Also he looked like any other Egyptian. But they knew the power of the man who stood in front of them. Joseph wanted to tell them who he was and embrace them, but he decided to wait. Noticing that his younger brother Benjamin was not present, Joseph began one of the two tests his brothers were meant to experience in order to learn from their past mistakes.
Genesis 42:9 “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!”
Joseph’s brothers denied his accusations that they were spies who had come to Egypt so they could report to enemy nations of Egypt’s weaknesses.
And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more. (Gen. 42:13)
But Joseph continued his accusation against them. He knew that they were not truly spies, but he decided to make sure that his rank and power remained the focus of their attention. He did this by assuring them that they would not leave Egypt unless their younger brother came to Egypt as proof that what they told him was true (Gen. 42:14-16).
After keeping them in prison for three days, Joseph allowed all but one of the brothers to return home to their father with grain to help their families through the famine (Gen. 42:17-20). Finally, realizing that they were going through all of this because of what they had done to Joseph in the past, the brothers discussed their guilt and the real possibility that their lives might be taken because of their past actions.
Genesis 42:21-22 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” 22 Then Reuben spoke to them saying, did I not speak to you saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you did not listen. Therefore now behold, his blood is now required of us.”
Joseph spoke the Egyptian language and his brothers spoke only Hebrew, so all of this talk between the brothers was through an interpreter. This person could speak both languages (Gen. 42:23). But Joseph remembered his native language and he understood what his brothers were saying. He was sorry for his brothers and he went away so that they would not see him cry. When Joseph returned, he had Simeon tied up as his prisoner right in front of the other brothers’ eyes (Gen. 42:24).
Genesis 42:37 “Then Reuben spoke to his father saying, ‘Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.’”
Concerned that some danger would come to Benjamin along the journey, Jacob refused to let him go for the time being (Gen. 42:38). Knowing how much our parents truly love us, as God also loves His children, it is easy to realize how difficult it would be for Jacob to put Benjamin in a life- threatening position; especially when Jacob believed that he had already lost two sons, Joseph and Simeon.
However, when the famine became severe, Jacob had no choice but to allow Benjamin to return to Egypt with his other sons in order to obtain supplies. This time, Judah took responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. Judah promised that if anything happened to Benjamin, the blame would be on him forever (Gen. 43:1-9).
Try to remember who took a curse upon themselves in Jacob’s family when he was younger. Referring to previous lessons and the Bible itself, what does God say is wrong with taking a curse or blame upon oneself?
Jacob finally accepted that Benjamin would have to return with his other sons to Egypt, because the rest of his children and grandchildren were suffering due to the famine. However, to ensure that they did not go back to Egypt empty-handed, Jacob sent presents of fruit, balm, honey, spices, myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds along with them (Gen. 43:10-11).
With these gifts, the sons were also to take with them twice the amount of money they took on their first journey to Egypt. They were also told to return the money that had been found in their grain bags, just in case it had remained in their bags by some oversight (Gen. 43:12-13).
As they headed out, Jacob declared, “May God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved” (Gen. 43:14).
By this point in the famine, Jacob had realized that more lives then just Benjamin’s and his other sons’ could be lost if he did not replenish the supplies of his household. By allowing himself to be bereaved or upset by the loss of Benjamin and sending his other sons back to Egypt, Jacob displayed his willingness to sacrifice Benjamin, so that the rest of his family could survive into the future.
When Joseph saw his brothers return with Benjamin, he told his butler to kill an animal in preparation for a feast to be held at his house. Once the brothers were brought into Joseph’s house they immediately became frightened at the possible reasons for which they had been brought there. Assuming the reason to be the money that they had found in their grain bags from their previous visit, they approached the butler to explain their situation. Knowing the nature of the visit, the butler assured the brothers that their presence there was for peaceful reasons (Gen. 43:15-23).
After washing their feet that were dirtied from their journey, drinking some water, and having their donkeys fed, the brothers prepared their presents for Joseph’s arrival at noon (Gen. 43:24-25).
When Joseph arrived he was presented with his gifts from Jacob. He asked about their father and was told that he was still alive and in good health. While his brothers humbly bowed before him, Joseph recognized and spoke to his younger brother Benjamin saying, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Joseph soon found himself wishing that he could embrace Benjamin. So, he again had to go away from his brothers to hide his emotions as well as his true identity. When Joseph returned, everyone was seated exactly according to their age, from the eldest to the youngest (Gen. 43:26-33).
Because the Egyptians thought it was shameful to eat with Hebrews, they sat separately from Joseph’s family. Joseph’s brothers were amazed to see that this man, who they thought had no real knowledge of their family, had actually seated them according to their birthright and age. Not only that, they must have been curious why Joseph had made sure that Benjamin’s serving was five times larger than that of the others (Gen. 43:34).
If we look at the importance of Benjamin’s serving of food, we must understand the biblical significance of the number five. Though the Bible often refers to five as relating to divine grace without trial, perhaps as Benjamin was free of the trials faced by his half-brothers at that time, the significance of Joseph favouring his full brother over his half-brothers could be equally important.
If we look at the model shown to us by God the Father we can see that, like Him, neither Joseph nor ourselves should be “a respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). As an example from Joseph’s own life, we saw how the jealousy and anger that had developed between the brothers, as a result of favouritism from Jacob, eventually lead to a plot to kill Joseph.
The second test Joseph used on his brothers was to place Benjamin in a position of potentially fatal guilt. To do this, Joseph had the overseer of his house return the brothers’ money once again to their grain sacks, but to Benjamin’s sack the servant was also told to add Joseph’s silver cup. So, after the brothers had left with their donkeys at dawn, the keeper of Joseph’s house followed them. When the steward approached them he accused them of stealing the personal belongings of their good host (Gen. 44:1-8). They again denied what they were being accused of, saying:
“With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we will also be my lord’s slaves.” (Gen. 44:9)
Eager to prove their innocence, they quickly opened their grain bags for inspection. It was then, after searching from the oldest to the youngest, that the silver cup was found in the possession of Benjamin. As it was the custom of the time when someone felt strongly emotional, the brothers tore their shirts. They felt guilty and fearful for their youngest brother’s life and quite possibly their own lives. Once again they would need to reason with Joseph, so the brothers headed back to the city (Gen. 44:10-13).
Admitting their guilt for what had happened with the silver cup, as well as their past mistakes, they again bowed humbly before Joseph and offered themselves as servants to him. Seeing this display of humility, Joseph spoke to them and said, “The man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Gen. 44:14-17).
Because the silver cup was found in the possession of Benjamin, he was at risk of becoming a slave to Joseph, who was governor of Egypt. Realizing that what was happening to Benjamin was very similar to what they had done to Joseph in his youth, the brothers must have felt a strong sense of guilt. What would any of us do if we were one of Benjamin’s brothers?
For Judah the answer was clear. He feared that his father would not live much longer and that the blame would be upon his head forever if he didn’t bring Benjamin back to Canaan. Hoping to explain his situation, Judah approached Joseph to retell the whole story of what had happened (Gen. 44:18-32). Judah then pleaded with Joseph.
Genesis 44:33-34 “Now therefore let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father.”
Judah had played a big part in kidnapping Joseph and selling him into slavery. When Joseph heard Judah say he was willing to give up his own life for that of his younger brother, Joseph broke down and cried in front of all who were there. Once all his Egyptian servants had left the room, Joseph told his brothers who he really was (Gen. 45:1-4).
After a tearful reunion, Joseph informed his brothers that they had no blame for selling him as a slave; it was by God that he had arrived where he was as a second to Pharaoh and a preserver of life during those times of famine (Gen. 45:5-8).
When Pharaoh heard reports from the servants of his house that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and his servants were happy for Joseph. As a result, Pharaoh told Joseph to send his brothers back to Canaan, get their father and all that was Jacob’s, and to return to Egypt. Pharaoh was going to present Jacob with the best land in Egypt, also known as the ‘fat of the land’. Joseph did what Pharaoh commanded (Gen. 45:9-21).
Joseph gave his brothers a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave five changes of clothes and three hundred pieces of silver. For his father, Joseph sent ten male donkeys loaded with goods from Egypt and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and food for the journey (Gen. 45:22-24).
The symbolism of the sets of ten donkeys is not only important in a physical sense. Although the symbols found with numbers in the Bible may be too much to understand right now, in the future it will be very important in understanding the Plan and Calendar of God.
In symbolism, the number ten usually represents completeness and a new beginning. The number two, as in the two sets of ten donkeys, represents difference. It is quite possible that for Joseph, sending the donkeys in sets of ten was symbolic proof for his father Jacob that he was alive and that they could recommence their relationship anew.
Arriving in the land of Canaan, Joseph’s brothers told their father that Joseph was still alive and was now the governor of Egypt. At first, Jacob did not believe his sons, perhaps because of their past deception in which they told him that Joseph was killed by a wild animal as a young man. However, once Jacob saw the donkeys and all that had been sent to him from Egypt, Jacob believed that Joseph really was alive. This made Jacob very happy. So, Jacob told his other sons that, without delay, he would go to Egypt to see Joseph before his death (Gen. 45:25-28).
As this example from the life of Joseph shows, we should not develop favourites either as parents or siblings, as Jacob did with Joseph and Joseph did with Benjamin. We shouldn’t doubt the dreams or means by which God does His works, because they will not always make sense to us. And finally, we should never be quick to react to our emotions as Joseph’s brother did with him, because there are always consequences for our thoughts and actions.
So Jacob and his sons and all their families set out with all their possessions. Along the way, Jacob was spoken to in a vision or dream by the Angel of Yahovah and told not to be afraid to go to Egypt, because God had plans for his family there (Gen. 46:1-3).
When Joseph heard his father was on his way he went up to Goshen to meet him. Just imagine the joy when Jacob met his favourite son after so many years and especially as he thought he was dead. So they cried tears of happiness. Jacob was now ready to die because he had seen Joseph once again (Gen. 46:29-30).
Joseph told his brothers to tell the Pharaoh that they were used to working with livestock. Most Egyptians did not like people who did this work, because cattle and sheep were sacred to them (Gen. 46:31-34).
Five of the brothers were brought before Pharaoh and when he heard they were keepers of sheep and cattle, Pharaoh told Joseph to let them settle in the land of Goshen. This was the best place for the herds and not many Egyptians lived there, so Joseph was happy for his family (Gen. 47:1-6).
Next, Joseph brought his father before Pharaoh and he was very respectful to Jacob. When asked how old he was Jacob told Pharaoh he had been living for 130 years (Gen. 47:7-9). After this Joseph settled his father and brothers and their families in Goshen. He also made sure they all had enough food to eat (Gen. 47:10-12).
Meanwhile, the famine became worse and the people had to pay for the grain they got from Joseph; but eventually the money ran out. This also shows that they did not really prepare for hard times by saving their money when times were good and they had plenty (Gen. 47:13-15).
But the people were hungry and cried out for bread. Joseph then told them that they could bring their animals and exchange them for food. But eventually they had no more animals either and they cried out again. This time they gave up their land to Pharaoh so they could eat. All the people sold their land because the famine was so bad. So the people were then moved into the cities to live and they were fed there until the famine ended. The only land not sold was that belonging to the Egyptian priests. They had been given a ration of food from the Pharaoh (Gen. 47:16-22).
When the hard times passed the people were given seed to plant in the land and they were required to give the king one fifth of all they produced. The other four parts were theirs. The people were happy with this plan as they had been saved from starvation after all. Just as Joseph had said, the seven years of famine ended and finally the rains came (Gen. 47:23-26).
Joseph continued to live in Egypt with his brothers and their families until he died. As he was dying he told his people that the One True God was with them and would bring them out of Egypt (Gen. 50:15-26). Joseph did not forget God’s promises (Gen. 15:16; 46:4; 48:21). He then made his brothers swear that they would take his bones out of Egypt when God fulfilled this promise. We know from the Bible that Moses did take Joseph’s bones out of Egypt hundreds of years later (Ex. 13:19). Jacob also made a similar request of his sons when he was dying (Gen. 47:29-31).
Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. His body was embalmed and buried in Egypt. The Egyptians considered it a divine blessing to have lived this long.
From this paper it is hoped that we will realize and better appreciate the trials and learning processes experienced by Joseph’s brothers. We can apply these lessons to our own attitudes and the decisions we make throughout our lives.