Joseph Prepares For His Brothers’ Arrival

Not only was Egypt hit by: the famine, but also all the neighboring countries, Canaan among them. Many people from near and far came to Egypt to buy provisions, since only in the land of Egypt had the famine been anticipated and prepared for. Naturally Joseph expected to see his brothers any day, coming to purchase food for Jacob’s household. In order to make sure that he would not miss them, he ordered all purchasers of food to register as soon as they entered Egypt.

The Harsh Reception

Thus Joseph knew immediately when his ten older brothers arrived in Egypt to buy corn for their father’s house. Only Benjamin did not come. Joseph had his brothers brought before him. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him, for when they had last seen him he was but a youngster, and it would have been difficult for them to imagine that this powerful royal personage was their own brother. Joseph thought of his dreams and of their jealous attitude towards him and decided to test them. Through an interpreter, so that they might not guess his identity, Joseph addressed them harshly (Genesis 42:7).

“Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to purchase food.”

“You are spies!” Joseph accused them.

“No, sir,” they replied; “your servants have but come to purchase food. We are twelve brothers and our father is in Canaan; the youngest is at home with our father, and one brother disappeared many years ago.”

Joseph pretended that he was not convinced, and told his brothers that he would not let them go away till one of them went to fetch their youngest brother, to prove the truth of their words. Then he had them put into prison.

The Changed Brothers

On the third day of their imprisonment, Joseph spoke to his brothers again.

He told them that he would not keep them in prison any longer, and that in order that they might have an opportunity to prove their honesty, one of the brothers should remain in prison as a hostage. The rest, however, were instructed to return to Canaan with their food and to bring back their youngest brother.

Joseph could not help overhearing his brothers’ conversation, full of distress and regret. They believed that the trouble that had befallen them was a punishment from G‑d for their heartlessness on that fateful day when they had thrown Joseph into the pit.

Joseph was overcome with love and pity for his brothers when he saw how sorry they were for their cruelty to him; he withdrew quietly and wept. Then he hardened himself, washed his eyes, and returned to his brothers with a look upon his face so harsh that it made them wince. He ordered his men to bind Simeon, who was next to the eldest. But Simeon terrified the men, and they were powerless to carry out Joseph’s order. Thereupon, Manasseh, Joseph’s oldest son, seized Simeon, and bound him. The brothers were taken back by the unusual strength of the young Egyptian prince. Such strength they thought possible only in a descendant of Jacob.

Having secretly ordered that the money his brothers had paid for the food be returned to their sacks, Joseph sent them away, warning them to bring their youngest brother with them the next time they came to Egypt.

The Brothers Return Home

The brothers thanked Joseph and left for Canaan, their mules packed with corn. On the way, they stopped at an inn. One of them opened his sack to take out some food for his animal, and was astonished to find that his money had been returned to him. Now they were even more frightened than before, because they felt that more trouble was in store for them.

Arriving home, they told their father everything that had happened. When they emptied the corn, they discovered all the rest of the money they had paid for it, in their sacks. Fear overcame everyone of them. When they told their father that they would have to take Benjamin with them to Egypt in order to save Simeon, he said in great distress, “Joseph is gone, and Simeon is not here; now you want to take Benjamin away. If any mischief should befall him on the way, you will bring my gray head with sorrow to the grave. My son shall not go with you!”