Joseph Accuses His Brothers Of Being Spies
In the providence of God, Joseph was on hand when his ten brothers arrived to buy grain, and he recognized them.
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they didn’t recognize him.
Genesis 42:8 (NLT)
Even if they had expected to meet Joseph, whom they didn’t, the ten men wouldn’t have recognized their brother. He was seventeen when they sold him, and in the ensuing twenty years he would have changed in appearance far more than his older brothers.
Furthermore, he was now clean-shaven like an Egyptian, he was dressed like an Egyptian, and he spoke to them in the Egyptian language through an interpreter.
He then remembered the dreams he had as a young man regarding his brothers.
Joseph: You are spies! You have come to see how this famine has weakened our defenses so you can attack us.
Genesis 42:9 (VOICE)
But, in a nano-second, it says in V9 that he remembered those dreams of his youth…of the 11 sheaves of grain bowing down to his; and of the 11 stars, the moon, and the sun paying homage to him. And, it must also have been at that moment, with all the preparation so carefully guided by the invisible God, that those dreams that his brothers AND his own father, Jacob, had chastised him for…were TRUE!
Joseph realized for the first time that Divine Providence had been at work all along. He now knew with certainty why God had allowed to happen all that had happened to him. Yet, some testing was needed to see if God had also prepared his brothers.
It must have been difficult for Joseph to control his emotions as he spoke harshly to his brothers, because his natural desire would have been to speak to them in Hebrew and reveal who he was. But that would have ruined everything, for he knew that all eleven brothers had to bow before him. This meant that Benjamin would have to come with them on their next trip.
Furthermore, Joseph’s brothers had to be forced to face their sins and come to a place of honest confession, and that would take time.
Joseph, knowing otherwise, accuses them of being spies. The brothers are utterly taken aback by this, for the accusation doesn’t even make sense…it borders the irrational. But, they are afraid, for they are totally at this ruler’s arbitrary mercy.
Truth and justice matter not at all at this point, and they know it. For a ruler of Joseph’s stature can decide matters summarily, and order whatever punishment he deems appropriate. They are helpless and powerless to control their fate…just as Joseph found himself helpless, so long ago, lying at the bottom of a dry well; begging and crying for mercy that would not come from these same pitiless brothers, now standing before him hat-in-hand.
“No, my lord!” they exclaimed. “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!”
“Yes, you are!” Joseph insisted. “You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”
“Sir,” they said, “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.”
But 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.”
Genesis 42:10-16 (NLT)
He questions them, and finds out his father is still alive, as is his little brother Benjamin, and so orders that one brother was to go and bring back the youngest brother, Benjamin, to prove their assertion that they were not spies…that they were truthful. But, this would not happen until all 10 were to be put into prison for 3 days.
Of course, the reason behind Joseph’s decision to jail them was to separate his brothers from the myriads of Egyptian citizens and foreigners who daily came hoping to buy from Egypt’s reserve grain supplies. He wanted, and needed, to deal with his family separately and not under the gaze of everyone else.
So Joseph put them all in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “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.” To this they agreed.
Genesis 42:17-20 (NLT)
At the end of the 3 days, he now gave a different order. Nine brothers were to return with the grain they needed to feed their clan. One, Simeon, was to remain in custody, as surety for the rest. And, if they did not bring back Benjamin, Simeon would forfeit his life (or so was the implication).
Speaking among themselves, 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.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
Genesis 42:21-22 (NLT)
The brothers discussed their plight among themselves in front of Joseph…assuming he was an Egyptian and would not understand what they were speaking in Hebrew.
The brothers’ harsh treatment in Egypt—the land where they had once sent Joseph—as well as the stiff demands placed on them made it plain to them that they were being punished for what they had done to their brother 20 years earlier.
Reuben, eldest of the group and the one who had kept Joseph from being killed by his brothers (37:22), interpreted the current events as a divine accounting for Joseph’s blood, i.e., his death. Reuben’s earlier defense of Joseph and his current rebuke of his brothers may explain why second-born Simeon was detained instead of Reuben.
Of course, they didn’t know that Joseph understood them, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Now he turned away from them and began to weep. When he regained his composure, he spoke to them again. Then he chose Simeon from among them and had him tied up right before their eyes.
Genesis 42:23-24 (NLT)
And, Joseph kept up the ruse by using an interpreter as a go-between during his dealings with his brothers. What he heard made him weep; the guilt of over 2 decades overcame them, and they knew that this was the day of reckoning for what they had wrongly done to their little brother, Joseph.
But, he also heard Rueben try to absolve himself, with apparently no disagreement as to his position of innocence. And, Joseph must have believed him. For, rather than keeping the all-important first-born, Rueben, as a prisoner, Joseph ordered Simeon, the 2nd son of Jacob, to be held hostage.
Joseph, whose heart—but not his outward appearance—had been softened toward his brothers by Reuben’s comments, understood the words the brothers spoke in Hebrew, turned away from his brothers, and wept.
A Time Of Tension
Joseph then ordered his servants to fill the men’s sacks with grain, but he also gave secret instructions to return each brother’s payment at the top of his sack. He also gave them supplies for their journey home. So the brothers loaded their donkeys with the grain and headed for home.
Genesis 42:25-26 (NLT)
Now, Joseph REALLY messes with their heads. He orders that the money the brothers paid for the grain be hidden in the necks of the grain sacks.
At Joseph’s command, his steward replaced the brothers’ money in their sacks, but later the steward said he had received their silver and he gave credit to the Lord (43:23). Either the steward was lying, which is doubtful, or Joseph paid for the grain himself so that he could care for his father and the relatives he hadn’t seen in over twenty years.
The money in the sacks was also part of his plan to test his brothers and prepare them for their next trip to Egypt.
But when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get grain for his donkey, he found his money in the top of his sack. “Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!” Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?”
Genesis 42:27-28 (NLT)
Joseph’s brothers, who had once traded Joseph’s life for money, now felt their hearts “depart” ( sank) when they received this money from him. Worried that they would be pursued as criminals, they trembled in fear of what God had done to them.
One wonders what must have gone through their minds on that many day journey back to face their father. Who would be the spokesman among them to tell their fragile father that not only had they come back one short in their number, but that now they were to take Benjamin, Jacob’s most beloved child, back to Egypt with them, or Simeon would die, along with the rest of them when Pharaoh’s men caught up with them.
To Be Continued…