As the drama unfolds between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph continues to conceal his identity as the brothers’ respect grows for the strange Egyptian authority figure.
After returning home to Israel (Jacob), Joseph’s brothers and the family finish eating all of the grain. Israel urges his sons to return to Egypt to buy more food. Judah then reminds his father that “the man” (Joseph, for the brothers still do not know that it was him) bid them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin should they return to Egypt. They remembered this authority figure in Egypt telling them that they would not see him to buy food unless they brought the youngest Benjamin. Just as he did in the previous chapter, Judah volunteers to bear the risk in taking Benjamin, saying “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.”
Although Israel is not happy with the situation, he knows that they need food, so he allows Benjamin to return to Egypt to get more food. But he has conditions that they should take gifts and the money for the food from the previous trip back to this authority figure, that they might placate him. Israel is hopeful that his sons will return with Benjamin and Simeon, the second oldest, whom Joseph had retained during their last visit.
You will probably remember that he asked his brothers about the youngest of them during their previous trip. Joseph’s affinity for Benjamin most likely originates in the fact that they both had the same mother in Rachel. When Joseph sees his brothers return with Benjamin, he is very happy. He sends them to his home and tells his servants to slaughter an animal for them and that he will eat with them at noon.
But Joseph’s brothers were afraid and supposed that they were brought to Joseph’s house to be punished because they received the food during their last visit without paying. When they express this fear to Joseph’s house steward, he urges them not to worry, saying that, in effect, there is nothing to worry about. This steward knows something of God Almighty that Joseph believed in and he must have known that these were his brothers also, because he says, “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks.” Simeon is also then rejoined with his brothers.
When Joseph arrives home, the brothers give him the gifts and bow before him, fulfilling the dream that Joseph had as a child. Joseph asked about the wellness of Israel and recognizes Benjamin once more. He is overcome with emotion and must retreat to privacy to weep. After this, he returns to his brothers and dines with them. This is significant because Egyptians do not typically dine with outsiders, but of course, Joseph is not an Egyptian.
Joseph cannot hold back from seating his brothers in the order of their age, nor can he resist giving his brother Benjamin more food than everyone else.
It is striking how much respect his brothers pay to him in contrast with how they treated him formerly. Joseph’s giving more food to Benjamin may have been a test of sorts to see whether their tendencies toward envy would still be their downfall. But no evidence of this occurs. Joseph is being blessed by God and is in turn blessing his brothers, just as we ought to do with our own blessings. But there is also much more going on here. Think about the effort needed from Joseph to keep from telling his brothers. Surely the buildup is needed to maximize the impact, but we can feel his emotion as we read this chapter. He is heartbroken yet hopeful. He loves them yet he is also testing them. Are there shades of character in Joseph that God exhibits towards us?
This story is not over. Joseph has more in store for his estranged family as he ultimately reveals himself and blesses them even further. But there is more to come…