Jacob’s sons had happily returned, loaded with grain, from Egypt .But suddenly a worrisome thing happened.
When the sons began to take the grain out of their sacks, each one was shocked to find a bag of money in the very top of his sack the same amount each had paid the Egyptians for his part of the grain. When Jacob saw this, he was worried lest all the brothers be branded as thieves and taken as prisoners back into Egypt.
“I have already lost two sons, Joseph and Simeon,” said Jacob. “Now you want me to hand Benjamin over to you. I won’t do that because I don’t trust you to return him to me.”
Reuben, the brother who had wanted to spare Joseph from his brothers’ cruel plans, spoke out to his father:
“Let me take Benjamin to Egypt so that we may prove ourselves and rescue Simeon from prison,” he said. “If I don’t return with Benjamin, you may kill my two sons.”
“Do not make foolish promises, “said Jacob. ‘I do not intend to send Benjamin away. If anything should happen to him, I would die of sorrow.”
Months passed, and the famine became worse. Like most other people, Jacob didn’t know that there would be seven years without enough rain to make good crops. Every day he prayed for rain, and each day he looked forward to a weather change that would bring fresh, green grass and good crops. But God had a plan in mind, and He set about carrying it out, even though those who followed Him prayed for a change.
At last the food supply which they had bought from Egypt became very low. Then Jacob could do only one thing tell his sons that they should return to Egypt after more gain (Gen. 43:1-2).
“There is no use returning for more grain unless we take along our brother, Benjamin,” said Judah respectfully to Jacob. “We were told by the governor that he would not see us unless we could prove that we were not spies by bringing our youngest brother to him” (v. 3).
“You should never have mentioned Benjamin,” Jacob said. “We had to do it to answer the questions asked of us,” replied the brothers.
Then Judah said, “Now if you want grain, let Benjamin go with us. If anything happens to him, you can blame me for it” (vs. 8-9).
“If it must be like that, then take him,” Jacob finally agreed. “But take also some gifts for the governor of Egypt. My servants will prepare packages of honey, spices, ointments, perfumes, and the very best dates and nuts from our country. Then also take back the money that was returned to you in your sacks as well as a sum with which to buy more grain. Offer all of it to the governor. I trust that God will be with you, and that you will return with both Benjamin and Reuben.”
Once again, ten of Jacob’s sons went to Egypt, and once again, after certain arrangements had been made, ten of Jacob’s sons stood before the governor of Egypt, who was really another of Jacob’s sons.
When Joseph, governor of the land under the Egyptian Pharaoh, saw that his brothers had returned at last with a young man who might be his young brother, he was very happy and excited. However, he didn’t show his true feelings.
“Bring these men to my house and prepare a very special noon meal for them,” he told his chief servant (v. 16). The servant took the ten sons of Jacob to Joseph’s house. But they weren’t sure why they had been brought to such a fine place, and they began to think that they were there to receive some sort of punishment for the things they had done that were wrong.
Therefore they told Joseph’s chief servant all about their first trip to Egypt for grain, and how their money had mysteriously been returned to them. They showed this chief servant that they wanted to return the money that had somehow been returned to them, and that they had more money with which to buy more grain (vs. 20-22).
“Don’t worry about these things,” said Joseph’s chief servant to them. “Make yourselves comfortable until my master comes.”
While the brothers waited, they were given the chance to bathe, and their animals were fed. Then, for a pleasant surprise, their brother Simeon, who had been a prisoner in Egypt, for about a year, was brought in to them (v. 23).
About noon Joseph arrived at his house with some high-ranking Egyptians. The brothers were presented to him according to the Egyptian rulers of etiquette of those times. The brothers bowed low to him, and humbly presented to Joseph the gifts they had brought from Canaan. Joseph thanked them and asked about their father.
“He is still alive and well,” was the reply. “And is this the brother you told me about?” Joseph asked, looking at Benjamin.
“It is”, they answered. “This is Benjamin, the young brother who should help prove that we did not come to Egypt as spies.”
Joseph was so glad to meet Benjamin that he almost wept. In fact, he had to excuse himself and go to another room, where he broke out in tears. He returned shortly. No one could know how he felt in standing before eleven brothers who did not know that he was their brother (vs. 29-31).
Joseph then ordered the meal to be brought in for all. With so many good things to eat and drink before them, the brothers felt greatly honored, and forgot their fears and worries. Young Benjamin was more honored than anyone, however. Joseph secretly gave orders to his servants that Benjamin should receive special treatment. As a result, the servants who served brought five times as many kinds and amounts of food to Benjamin’s table than were brought to the tables of any of the Hebrews and Egyptians gathered in the great dining room (v. 34).
Of course Benjamin couldn’t eat nor drink all that was set before him. But he did look with wonder at this governor of Egypt who gave him such special favor. No doubt Benjamin would have been much more awed if he could have learned that this governor was his brother!
Very early next morning the brothers set out for Canaan with as much grain as their animals could carry. They were happy with the way things had turned out. Simeon had been let out of prison to come home with them, they had enjoyed a meal with the governor of the land and now they were on their way home with grain after proving that they were not spies.
Later in the morning they noticed a cloud of dust off to the south. As it grew larger, they could see that a band of men on camels was swiftly coming their way. They were surprised when the leader of the band turned out be Joseph’s chief servant.
“Why have you treated your host the governor so badly?” the chief servant asked of the brothers as they halted, wondering why they had been overtaken.
“What do you mean?” they asked. “The governor’s special silver cup is missing, the one he used yesterday when you were with him, said the chief servant. “He thinks one of you has stolen it.”
“But that isn’t so,” the brothers argued. “We are not thieves. We brought back the money that was returned to us on our first trip to Egypt. Why should we steal now? Search us, and if you find your master’s silver cup in our belongings, we promise to become your servants. What’s more, the one of us who is hiding the cup you speak of should die for stealing it” (v. 9).
The brothers meant what they said, but at the same time they felt that there was no chance that the silver cup would be found on them. Not a one of them would have dared to take such a valuable article from the powerful governor of Egypt.
“So let it be as you have said,” said the chief servant, and he ordered his men to search the brothers’ belongings.
To the unpleasant surprise of the brothers, the money for the grain was again found in their sacks! And, what was worse, the valuable silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (v. 12)!
In miserable silence the brothers packed their belongings back on their animals, mounted their donkeys, and escorted by those who pursued them, rode back to meet Joseph again. When Joseph appeared, they fell down before him.
“What are you trying to put over on me?” Joseph sternly asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to see into the evil deeds of men?”
“What can we say?” asked Judah, the brother who had told his father that he would surely look out for Benjamin.
“There is no way of proving to you that we are not guilty,” Judah went on. “The truth is that we are not guilty of these things you point out to us. But we do now admit that we have done some wicked things in the past, and we feel that it is now God’s will that we be punished for those things. If that punishment means that we become your slaves, so be it” (v. 16).
“I don’t think it need be that way,” Joseph said. “I ask that Benjamin become my servant. The rest of you may return to your father.”
Perhaps some of the brothers thought of this as a very fair way of settling matters. But Judah felt that he should make a last great effort to get the governor to set Benjamin free. He reminded Joseph of all that had happened. He pointed out that Jacob had almost died of sorrow when his son Joseph had become lost, and that Jacob was certain to die of sorrow if his youngest son, Benjamin, failed to return to Canaan.
Joseph was so moved by Judah’s plea that he could no longer keep his feelings under control. From the very first, Joseph had treated them harshly because he knew of their sins, and he wanted them to know that they would have to suffer because they had acted wickedly. He had returned their grain money twice to keep them in a sober state of mind. Lastly, he had the silver cup put in Benjamin’s sack for the same reason and also so that Benjamin would have to be returned to him at least for a while (Gen. 44:1-2).
Now, at last, Joseph was overcome, and could no longer act the part of a stern ruler. He ordered the Egyptian officers from his house so that he could be alone with his brothers (Gen. 45:1).
“I am Joseph, your brother,” he tearfully told them, speaking in his native Hebrew language. “Is Jacob, my father, still alive and well?”
Instead of answering him, the brothers only moved backward, staring in surprise and unbelief.
“Come near me,” Joseph said. “Look at me closely, and you should recognize the young brother you sold to Arabian slave traders years ago” (v. 4).
The brothers kept on staring in unbelief. Perhaps some of them remembered Joseph’s dream of their bowing down to him.
“Don’t be unhappy or angry because I remind you of the things you have done,” Joseph said. “God caused these things to happen. He opened the way for me to be taken to Egypt and gave me wisdom to see into the future. It was for the good of many people, including you and our father, Jacob, that God directed me to prepare for a famine. Five years without harvest are yet to come. Now, as one who has power even to tell Pharaoh what to do in these matters, I want you to go back to your father and tell him all that has happened. Tell him that I am governor of all Egypt under Pharaoh, and that I want him and his family and his flocks and all of you and your possessions to come down to Egypt to live while the famine lasts. If all of you don’t come down here, you will probably lose all that you have.
Joseph then lovingly embraced his young brother Benjamin, and after that, all of his other brothers. This caused his awe-struck brothers to lose their fear of this man they had thought of only as the stern governor of Egypt. They began to talk as only brothers talk among themselves. It turned out to be a happy time for all of them, especially because Joseph was willing to forgive them for the wrong things most of them had done to him.
It wasn’t long before Pharaoh heard about Joseph’s brothers. Because of his great regard for Joseph, Pharaoh was pleased to tell him to tell his brothers that the king also wanted them to return to Egypt, but that first he wanted them to return to Canaan in grander style than that in which they had arrived.
Pharaoh told Joseph to give them carriages to take back to Canaan. It was Pharaoh’s idea that the mothers and children would be much better off riding in the carriages than they would be riding on swaying camels or jogging donkeys.
Joseph then saw that his brothers received a number of carriages and plenty of donkeys to pull them. Also he gave them new clothes. To his brother Benjamin, whom he especially favored, he gave many more clothes and quite a sum of money. To Jacob, his father, he sent ten donkeys loaded with good things to eat from Egypt, including corn, preserved foods and fancy breads (vs. 22-23).
Besides these things, Joseph’s brothers took the bag of grain, they had been sent for in the first place. “Don’t let your good fortune get you into any trouble on the way back home,” Joseph warned. “Go straight back to Canaan and bring my father back down here.” With this advice, the governor of Egypt sent his brothers away to Canaan.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.