JOSEPH TESTS HIS BROTHERS
LUKE 6:27, ESV
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
GENESIS 42:1-15, NIrV
1 Jacob found out that there was grain in Egypt. So he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at one another?” 2 He continued, “I’ve heard there’s grain in Egypt. Go down there. Buy some for us. Then we’ll live and not die.”
3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain there. 4 But Jacob didn’t send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with them. He was afraid Benjamin might be harmed. 5 Israel’s sons were among the people who went to buy grain. There wasn’t enough food in the land of Canaan.
6 Joseph was the governor of the land. He was the one who sold grain to all its people. When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them. But he pretended to be a stranger. He spoke to them in a mean way. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied. “We’ve come to buy food.”
8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. 9 Then Joseph remembered his dreams about them. So he said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the places where our land isn’t guarded very well.”
10 “No, sir,” they answered. “We’ve come to buy food. 11 All of us are the sons of one man. We’re honest men. We aren’t spies.”
12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see the places where our land isn’t guarded very well.”
13 But they replied, “We were 12 brothers. All of us were the sons of one man. He lives in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is now with our father. And one brother is gone.”
14 Joseph said to them, “I still say you are spies! 15 So I’m going to test you. And here’s the test. You can be sure that you won’t leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. You can be just as sure of this as you are sure that Pharaoh lives. I give you my word that you won’t leave here unless your brother comes.
When Jacob’s sons came to Egypt to buy grain during the seven food-less years, it’s easy to understand why the ten of them didn’t recognize their little brother. They hadn’t seen him for 20 years! But Joseph noticed them right away. How could he ever forget the faces of the men who had thrown him into a pit, then sold him as a slave? But now he was second in charge of all of Egypt. Joseph had the perfect chance to pay them back! He said, “You must be spies!” and locked them in jail for three days. I know this looks like revenge, but Joseph had a much better plan for his big brothers.
+ What brother didn’t go to Egypt? Why? (vs. 4)
+ When his brothers bowed down, what dream did Joseph remember? (see Gen. 37:5-9)
GENESIS 42:18-24, NIrV
18 On the third day, Joseph spoke to them again. He said, “Do what I say. Then you will live, because I have respect for God. 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison. The rest of you may go and take grain back to your hungry families. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me. That will prove that your words are true. Then you won’t die.” So they did what he said.
21 They said to one another, “God is surely punishing us because of our brother. We saw how upset he was when he begged us to let him live. But we wouldn’t listen. That’s why all this trouble has come to us.”
22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we’re being paid back for killing him.” 23 They didn’t realize that Joseph could understand what they were saying. He was using someone else to explain their words to him in the Egyptian language.
24 Joseph turned away from his brothers and began to weep. Then he came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken and tied up right there in front of them.
Joseph let his brothers sweat it out in prison for a few days, then offered them a deal: "Bring your baby brother back here and I'll believe that you're not spies. But one of you will have to stay behind." Joseph spoke all this in the Egyptian language, then had a servant repeat his instructions in the language his brothers spoke. As his brothers argued about what to do, they didn't realize that Joseph could understand every word they said! And the words Joseph heard them say made his heart melt. "All this trouble is happening to us because of the terrible things we did to our brother, Joseph!"
+ What did Reuben say to his other brothers? (vs. 22)
+ What brother was left behind in Egypt? (vs. 24)
GENESIS 42:25-28, NIrV
25 Joseph gave orders to have their bags filled with grain. He had each man’s money put back into his sack. He also made sure they were given food for their journey. 26 Then the brothers loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.
27 When night came, they stopped. One of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey. He saw his money in the top of his sack. 28 “My money has been given back,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”
They had a sinking feeling in their hearts. They began to tremble. They turned to one another and said, “What has God done to us?”
For Jacob’s sons, their shopping trip to Egypt had been a total disaster! One thing went wrong after another. They’d been called spies and thrown in jail. Their brother Simeon had been tied up. And that angry Egyptian (who they didn’t know was Joseph) refused to release him until they brought back their baby brother Benjamin. Now, on the trip home, one brother found his money bag in his food sack. This was a huge problem! That mad man back in Egypt would think they hadn’t paid for their food. He had already thought they were spies; now he would think they were thieves, too!
+ How did the money end up in the brother’s food bag? (vs. 25)
+ Why did they think bad things kept happening? (vs. 28)
GENESIS 42:29-38, NIRV
29 They came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him everything that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is the governor of the land spoke to us in a mean way. He treated us as if we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We’re honest men. We aren’t spies. 32 We were 12 brothers. All of us were the sons of one father. But now one brother is gone. And our youngest brother is with our father in Canaan.’
33 “Then the man who is the governor of the land spoke to us. He said, ‘Here’s how I will know whether you are honest men. Leave one of your brothers here with me. Take food for your hungry families and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me. Then I’ll know that you are honest men and not spies. I’ll give your brother back to you. And you will be free to trade in the land.’ ”
35 They began emptying their sacks. There in each man’s sack was his bag of money! When they and their father saw the money bags, they were scared to death. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have taken my children away from me. Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is going against me!”
37 Then Reuben spoke to his father. He said, “You can put both of my sons to death if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. Trust me to take care of him. I’ll bring him back.”
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you. His brother is dead. He’s the only one left here with me. Suppose he’s harmed on the journey you are taking. Then I would die as a sad old man.”
Jacob sent ten sons to buy food in Egypt, but only nine of them came back. The brothers described the disastrous details of their days in Egypt. But their bad news wasn’t finished! As they unpacked their food, all nine of them found their money bags hidden among the grain! This was bad! When the brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin, they’d certainly be tossed in jail for not paying for their food! But it didn’t matter. Jacob refused to let them take beloved Ben, the baby of the family, to Egypt. Even when Reuben swore on the life of his own sons, Jacob put his foot down and said, “Never!”
+ Do you remember why did Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead?
+ What did Jacob say would happen if Benjamin was ever harmed? (vs. 38)
GENESIS 43:1-7, NIRV
1 There still wasn’t enough food anywhere in the land. 2 After a while Jacob’s family had eaten all the grain the brothers had brought from Egypt. So their father said to them, “Go back. Buy us a little more food.”
3 But Judah said to him, “The man gave us a strong warning. He said, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother Benjamin is with you.’ 4 So send our brother along with us. Then we’ll go down and buy food for you. 5 If you won’t send him, we won’t go down. The man said to us, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ ”
6 Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble to me? Why did you tell the man you had another brother?”
7 They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. He asked us, ‘Is your father still living? Do you have another brother?’ We just answered his questions. How could we possibly know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”
When the Egypt-bought food ran out, it was time for Jacob to make a decision. Option 1: Send Benjamin with his brothers back to Egypt to buy grain and save Simeon. Option 2: Keep Benjamin at home and starve to death! If he went with option #1, there was a chance something bad could happen to his beloved boy. But if he chose option #2, there was a 100% chance his entire family would die from starvation! Jacob knew he had no choice but to send Benjamin back to Egypt. But first, he felt like complaining. “This never would have happened if you didn’t blab about having a baby brother!”
+ Why did they have to buy food from Egypt instead of growing their own? (see Gen. 41:53-54)
+ What did Israel (Jacob) complain about to his sons? (vs. 6)
GENESIS 43:8-15, NIRV
8 Judah spoke to Israel his father. “Send the boy along with me,” he said. “We’ll go right away. Then we and you and our children will live and not die. 9 I myself promise to keep Benjamin safe. You can blame me if I don’t bring him back to you. I’ll set him right here in front of you. If I don’t, you can put the blame on me for the rest of my life. 10 As it is, we’ve already waited too long. We could have made the trip to Egypt and back twice by now.”
11 Then their father Israel spoke to them. He said, “If that’s the way it has to be, then do what I tell you. Put some of the best things from our land in your bags. Take them down to the man as a gift. Take some lotion and a little honey. Take some spices and myrrh. Take some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take twice the amount of money with you. You have to give back the money that was put in your sacks. Maybe it was a mistake. 13 Also take your brother. Go back to the man at once. 14 May the Mighty God cause him to show you mercy. May the man let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. And if I lose my sons, I lose them.”
15 So the men took the gifts. They took twice the amount of money. They also took Benjamin. They hurried down to Egypt and went to Joseph.
Now that we’ve come to the end of this week’s study, I can imagine a couple of questions that might be rattling around your brain. The first question is “Why was Jacob so worried about Benjamin?”
The answer to that question is complicated. If you remember, Jacob married four women, even though God’s word teaches us a man shouldn’t marry more than one. Of his four wives, Rachel was his favorite.
Rachel’s first son was Joseph and he quickly became his father’s favorite. As you can imagine, Jacob was heartbroken when his sons tricked him into thinking a wild animal had gobbled up Joseph. And there was more heartbreak to come. When Rachel gave birth to her second son Benjamin, she died.
Can you understand now why Jacob was so worried about Benjamin? His favorite wife Rachel had died. His favorite son had been eaten by an animal (or so he thought). If something were ever to happen to Benjamin? Well, Jacob would feel like just rolling over and dying, too!
Another question you might be asking is, “What in the world is Joseph doing?” He called his brothers spies, even though he knew they weren’t. He locked them in prison for three days. And then he tied one of them up and wouldn’t let him go until they brought back his baby brother Benjamin to Egypt! Is he doing all these things to pay them back for tossing him in a pit and selling him as a slave?
It doesn’t seem so. The book of Genesis doesn’t explain exactly why Joseph did the things he did. But most people who study the Bible agree on this: it looks like Joseph was testing his brothers. He wanted to find out, “Are these the same bullies who wanted to kill me, or have their hearts changed in the past 20 years?”
Although the story of Joseph and his brothers isn’t quite over, today’s verses give us a hint that, just maybe, Joseph’s bullying brothers had changed. To calm his father's fears Judah made him a serious promise: "If I don't bring Benjamin back, you can blame me for the rest of my life." Judah was willing to risk his own life to promise the safety of his brother.
Hmm... does that sound like anyone else you know? If you said, "Jesus," you read my mind! Like Judah, Jesus was willing to risk (and even give up) his own life to save sinners like you and me. And here's the cool thing: Jesus and Judah are connected! Jesus was Judah's great (times about 50) grandson!
+ What did Jacob tell the brothers to bring with them? (vs. 11-12)
+ How was Judah a little bit like his many-times-great grandson, Jesus?