And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. — Genesis 42:7-8
During the reign of Napoleon, a soldier had twice committed a crime that was worthy of death. The day before the young man’s execution, his mother went to Napoleon and begged him to have mercy and spare her son’s life. Napoleon told her that because of the crimes that had been committed, the young man did not deserve mercy. The mother cried, “Sir, it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” Her reasoning and passion prevailed; Napoleon was moved to commute the sentence.
Mercy is a key element in today’s text. Joseph had suffered through years of bondage and mistreatment due to his brothers’ cruel act of selling him into slavery. Their betrayal had caused him loss and heartache that we can hardly imagine. Despite the enormity of this injustice, he exhibited the true nature of a child of God. Joseph had kept his focus on serving God and being true in every circumstance. He had avoided the traps of bitterness and self-pity. Although he spoke “roughly” as he tested his brothers to see if they had truly changed, every indication is that his motives toward them were for good.
Although our circumstances will likely not be as extreme as Joseph’s, we too will face times when we must choose whether to enact vengeance or show mercy toward others. The Word of God teaches that vengeance belongs solely to the Lord, so when emotion pressures us to respond to injury or injustice by retaliating, we must choose to honor God by showing His attitude of love and forgiveness. Remember, one of the most powerful witnesses to genuine Christianity is a willingness to extend mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us!
Today’s text gives the account of the first two trips that Joseph’s brothers made to Egypt and Joseph’s encounters with them.
Chapter 42 begins by recounting that the famine foretold by Joseph had reached Canaan. When Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent ten of his sons to buy provisions. Benjamin, Rachel’s younger son and Joseph’s only full brother, was kept at home. Jacob’s fears for Benjamin’s safety could have been based upon his continued sorrow over the loss of Joseph or on a sense of concern about the feelings of the other brothers toward Benjamin. The trip from Canaan to Egypt was between 250 and 330 miles, and could have easily taken six weeks.
Genesis 42:6-28 tells of the interaction between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph had been in Egypt for over twenty years, and at this time he was clean-shaven (both his beard and head), attired as an Egyptian, and obviously held a high official position. He spoke in the Egyptian language and communicated with his brothers through an interpreter, so it is not surprising that his brothers did not recognize him.
Because Egypt was weakened by the famine, careful guard would have been given to watch for spies. Anyone coming from Canaan, Assyria, or other surrounding areas was likely subjected to keen examination.
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, he went through a number of steps to test them. The Bible does not reveal his motives; no doubt he wanted to know of the welfare of his father and brother. Additionally, he probably wanted to discern the attitude of these men toward Benjamin and to see if they had changed.
Joseph’s demand that his brothers bring their youngest brother to him caused them to rehearse their guilt concerning their treatment of Joseph so many years earlier. They were unaware that he was able to understand their speech. By keeping Simeon in prison as surety, Joseph showed his determination that Benjamin must be brought to Egypt. While secretly returning their money to their sacks may have been a kindness on Joseph’s part toward his brothers, that action caused the brothers to be even more afraid.
Chapter 43 tells of the brothers’ second trip to Egypt. Jacob found no comfort in the promises of Reuben (Genesis 42:37) and Judah (Genesis 43:8-9) that they would be surety for Benjamin and did not want to let Benjamin go. However, the famine compelled him to acquiesce and allow all his sons to return to Egypt. Again they took gifts, and this time enough money to pay for the previous provisions as well as to purchase more.
Once Joseph saw Benjamin, he was ready to continue the testing process for the brothers. Sent to Joseph’s home, they openly told Joseph’s steward the story of their returned money. Their willingness to pay for the first provisions proved that they were no longer greedy like they had been when they sold Joseph. At the meal they shared, serving Benjamin a portion five times larger than the others was a way for Joseph to show favor to his full brother. Also, it gave him opportunity to see the response of the other brothers to this display of preferential treatment. They passed this test also, showing no ill will toward Benjamin.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The early history of the chosen race
5. Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt
c. As an administrator
(2) The first visit of Joseph’s brothers (42:1-38)
(a) The ten sons sent to Egypt (42:1-5)
(b) The encounter with Joseph (42:6-17)
(c) The retention of Simeon (42:18-24)
(d) The return to Jacob (42:25-38)
(3) The second visit of Joseph’s brothers
(a) The need for provisions (43:1-10)
(b) The journey with Benjamin (43:11-15)
(c) The kindness of Joseph (43:16-34)
Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers should inspire us to extend mercy to those who cause us grief. We too can overcome evil with good if we keep our eyes on the Lord.