When Jacob’s ten eldest sons left Canaan for Egypt, guilt weighed heavily on each of them. Foremost in their hearts and minds was the image of their father, so frail and old now, with fear for his youngest son, Benjamin etched in his face, as he refused to let him travel with them. Their father had been such a strong and vital part of their lives, as he cared for them and their mothers over the years. He had always had such a strong, unshakable faith in El Shaddai, but in the years since Joseph’s death, even his faith seemed to have failed him.
Nothing had worked out as they had imagined it would. Their evil actions hadn’t brought them more of their father’s love, without Joseph there to steal it. Instead, it had brought them more pain and loneliness. Instead of earning their father’s undivided love, they had earned his fear and distrust, as well as a heavy burden of guilt, like a massive weight that threatened to break them, as they carried it with them everywhere they went. Indeed, in the twenty years since they had sinned against their brother, Joseph, their burdens had only grown heavier.
When they entered into Egypt, they learned that they would have to ask Egypt’s governor to allow them to purchase the grain needed for their families to survive, due to the severity of the famine. Therefore, they lined up, behind the others who had gathered to collect the much needed grain. Finally, after waiting for many long hours, the ten brothers stood before the governor of Egypt, and immediately dropped to their knees and bowed before him.
Joseph, the governor, paled at the sight of his ten older brothers, bowing down before him. He recognized them instantly, and caught his breath, as his heart pounded furiously within his chest. It felt like it might break free from his ribs. As the lump in his throat grew, Joseph fought the tears that threatened to spill. Looking at them now, bowed down before him, he couldn’t help but remember the dreams he’d had as a youth, in which, his brothers had bowed down to him.
Struggling to pull himself together, Joseph’s voice was harsh as he spoke to his brothers, “Where are you from?”
“We come from the land of Canaan,” they replied. “We have come to buy food.”
Although he had immediately recognized his brothers, they didn’t recognize Joseph, and why should they? In their minds, they imagined that he had probably died, or at the very least, was still a slave to a foreign master. Joseph didn’t reveal himself to his brothers. Instead, he pretended to be a stranger, and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”
How rigidly he must have held himself, so as not to break down in front of these brothers that he had loved as a child, only to be betrayed by them when he was just a teenager. Beloved reader, have you known the pain of betrayal at the hands of a family member? If so, surely you can understand how difficult it must have been for Joseph to maintain control of his emotions. How conflicted he must have felt. For, on the one hand, he loved these brothers, and he must have longed for news of their family. Yet, on the other hand, he must have felt an intense explosion of rage welling up within him, to see his betrayers, for the first time in twenty years.
A fool gives vent to all his feelings,
but the wise, thinking of afterwards, stills them.
Fear gripped the brothers’ hearts, and they quickly responded to Joseph’s accusation, “No, my lord! Your servants have simply come to buy food. We are all brothers—members of the same family. We are honest men, sir! We are not spies!”
Joseph continued his charade. “Yes, you are! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become,” he insisted.
“Sir,” the brothers replied, desperate to make him understand, “there are actually twelve of us. We, your servants, are all brothers, sons of a man living in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is back there with our father right now, and one of our brothers is no longer with us.”
Still, Joseph insisted, “As I said, you are spies! This is how I will test your story. I swear by the life of Pharaoh that you will never leave Egypt unless your youngest brother comes here! One of you must go and get your brother. I’ll keep the rest of you here in prison. Then we’ll find out whether or not your story is true. By the life of Pharaoh, if it turns out that you don’t have a younger brother, then I’ll know you are spies.”
So, Joseph put them all in prison for three days. How tormented he must have been, as all of the emotions that he thought were long gone, came rushing over him. It was like reliving his brothers’ betrayal and brutality all over again. How he must have cried out to ‘Elyon, to strengthen him, and give him wisdom.
1 Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
2 Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.” Selah
3 But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
4 I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
On the third day of their imprisonment, Joseph spoke to them again. “Look, I am a God-fearing man. If you do as I say, you will live. If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. But you must bring your youngest brother back to me. This will prove that you are telling the truth, and you will not die.” The brothers agreed to Joseph’s terms.
Speaking among themselves, the weight of their burden of guilt was evident, when they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph, long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”
Tears ran down Reuben’s face, as he asked, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
His brothers, who still didn’t know Joseph’s true identity, had no way of knowing that he understood every word that they had spoken, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Upon hearing his brothers’ words, he turned and walked away from them and began to weep. The emotions, and the weight he had been carrying for more than twenty years, was simply too much to bear, as his brothers openly spoke of his betrayal.
So deep was their own fear and anguish, that the brothers took no notice when Joseph turned away from them. They were all lost in the midst of a storm that had been brewing for more than twenty years. When Joseph regained his composure, he spoke to them again, and chose Simeon from among them. He ordered Simeon to be tied up before their eyes.
Then, Joseph ordered his servants to fill his brothers’ sacks with grain. He also gave them secret instructions to return each brother’s payment at the top of his sack, and he gave them supplies for their journey home. So, although ten brothers had started on the journey to Egypt, only nine returned home, and the weight they carried grew heavier with each step…
Cheryl A. Showers