Joseph’s family, facing the dire effects of the famine, sends ten of his brothers (excluding Benjamin) to Egypt in search of food. Unbeknownst to them, Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they fail to recognize him. Seizing the opportunity, Joseph feigns suspicion, accusing them of being spies and demanding that they return with their youngest brother as proof. In the meantime, Simeon is held captive in Egypt. As the nine brothers return to Canaan, they discover that Joseph had discreetly placed their payment money back into their sacks along with the grain, causing them great distress and uncertainty. Jacob, still grieving the loss of Joseph and Simeon, is reluctant to risk Benjamin’s safety by allowing him to go on the journey.
21. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.”
One can only imagine the deepening sorrow that engulfs Jacob’s heart as he witnesses his sons being taken away, one by one, fearing that he may lose even more of them. In his current state of despair, Jacob could hardly fathom the possibility of having all twelve of his sons reunited.
Joseph, now assuming complete control over the situation, leaves us questioning his intentions. It remains unclear whether he seeks to punish his brothers for their past actions or if his overwhelming emotions cloud his judgment (v.24). Perhaps revealing his true identity as their long-lost and now powerful brother, the governor of Egypt, seems too difficult a task. However, Joseph’s prolonged manipulation and the distress it causes cannot be justified.