Genesis 45:25–28

45 25 And they went up from Egypt and came to the land of Canaan, to Jacob, their father. 26 They said to him, “Joseph is still alive! He is ruler of all the land of Egypt!” Jacob’s heart failed him, for he did not believe them.
27 They spoke to him all the words Joseph had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons Joseph had sent to carry him down, Jacob revived. 28 Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die.”

The caravan from Egypt to Canaan steadily made its way through the wilderness of Sinai. There was time to consider how to deal with Jacob, so resistant to losing the land promised to his father and father’s father. If Jacob only risked sending Benjamin until all other options for survival had been exhausted, how long would all this bounty coming his way delay his leaving?

Sorting through their options, it was decided that the strongest emotion of Jacob surfaced when it involved Joseph. Their plan needed to begin by using Joseph as a lure.

Upon arriving at Jacob’s tent, the brothers begin their practiced song-and-dance routine that Joseph was alive and living in Egypt.

As might be expected, such news caused Jacob’s heart not just to skip a beat, but to intermit—to hold its life-breath, to simply stop.

The brothers applied their verbal shock-paddles to Jacob and repeated Joseph’s words to Jacob. When he finally saw the wagons sent by Joseph, it is recorded that Jacob revived. This resurrection was different than anything Jacob had experienced with a vision of a ramp, the sighting of Rachel, his return meeting with Esau, or word about Joseph’s death.

Jacob’s usual behavior took a backseat to relief, and he wanted to start back without checking their water supply or the strength of the animals. He was so ecstatic that he had no regret for all that needed to be left behind.

Jacob was on his way to Egypt without hesitation. Where the brothers wondered how they could convince Jacob to leave, they now had to figure out how to constrain him from driving everyone and their remaining flocks into the ground.

Genesis 45:16–24

45 16 The news was heard in Pharaoh’s house—“Joseph’s brothers have come.” It was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants.  17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your pack animals and return to the land of Canaan. 18 Get your father and your households and come back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will live off the fat of the land.’ 19 And you are commanded: “Take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and wives, and carry your father and come. 20 Do not regret seeing your possessions left, because the good things from all the land of Egypt are yours.”
     21 The sons of  Israel did this. Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh instructed, and he gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To all of them, each one, he gave a change of clothing, but to Benjamin, he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father, he sent ten donkeys carrying good things from Egypt, ten she-asses carrying grain and bread, and food for his father for the journey. 24 He sent his brothers off, and as they went, he told them, “Don’t be worried about a trap on the trip.”

Referring to Creation, G*D claims it to be good, day by day; Referring to the presence of Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh claims it to be good.

At the end of the 6th day, G*D claims it to be very good. One tradition has Lilith coming forth from G*D’s lung on the word “very”. Unconscious chaos and wisdom follow in her wake. A question for Pharaoh as to what might be “very good” added to a “good” would be the bringing of all of Joseph’s family to Egypt. Pharaoh offers the best land available. The presence of one person, Joseph, in Egypt, is one thing, particularly as they have brought such a surplus to Pharaoh and put all of Egypt in Pharaoh’s debt—complements of Joseph. It will be the story of a next book or sequel to describe how different it would be to have a multitude of non-Egyptians in Egypt.

Pharaoh not only invites Jacob/Israel and his extended family to come, but facilitates their move by supplying them with wagons to convey children, women, and an elderly patriarch from Canaan to Egypt by way of travel through Sinai’s wilderness.

Joseph, Pharaoh’s number two, provides his administrative skill to provision the brothers to return to Canaan and return with the extended family.

Joseph, favored as Rachel’s firstborn, doesn’t seem to be able to leave his perceived center of power and privilege. He continues the entitlement cycle by giving Benjamin, Rachel’s second-born, 300 silver coins (15 times what his brothers received when they sold Joseph), and 5 changes of garments (5 times the number of clothing items given each half-brother). Joseph, additionally, sends 20 donkey loads of Egyptian luxuries and grain to his father (more than any other brother could begin to comprehend, much less give.

Finally, Joseph has a word for his brothers as they leave. It was a word that is difficult to translate. Its general use is the opposite of “peace”. Alter suggests it’s meaning may simply be that Joseph has given over his desire for vengeance upon them, and there will be no trap of hidden silver or goblet, this time.

Genesis 45:1–15

45 1 Joseph could no longer constrain himself in front of all who stood in attendance around him, and he called out, “Everyone, leave me now!” So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He loudly wept; the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” His brothers could not respond because they were dismayed before him.
     Joseph said to his brothers, “I ask you to come closer to me.” They moved close. He said, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be pained and upset that you sold me here. It was to save lives that God sent me before you. For two years, there has been famine in the heart of the land, and there are another five years without plowing or harvest. God sent me before you to make you a remnant on earth, to keep you alive as a great group of survivors. So it was not you who sent me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, lord over his entire household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.
     “Hurry! Go up to my father and say to him, ‘Your son Joseph says: “God has made me lord of all of Egypt. Come down to me without delay. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, so you will be close to me, you and your sons and the sons of your sons, your sheep, your cattle, and all that is yours. 11 I will sustain you for five years of famine remain, and you will not lose everything, you, your household, and all that is yours.” 12 Your own eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin have seen it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 Tell my father about my importance in Egypt and all that you have seen. Make haste to bring my father down here.” 14 He fell upon the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. 15 He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After this, his brothers spoke with him.

After a third time of bowing by the brothers—a pregnant pause—and a third weeping by Joseph—this time without his leaving the room. At question is how repeated this pattern is. It appears that weeping is the breakthrough needed when there is an impasse between those constrained to bow and those all too comfortable with being bowed to. Why it takes so long to overcome this divide in every culture is a perennial question.

Joseph finally removes his trappings of power—interpreters and other servants are sent away—and he stands alone to try his mother tongue after all these years in Egypt and his training away any hint of his non-Egyptian background.

As the brothers hesitantly gather around Joseph, there is a subtle told-you-so as Joseph claims what the brothers meant as harm to him, personally, G*D and Joseph have transformed into good for many (including, particularly, his tribe).

Do note the “double causation” here. Though many commentators and translations try to turn this into a pious response from Joseph—giving all glory to G*D—Joseph is a critical center, providing a full sheaf that attracts famished sheaves to him.

A second note is the G*D designation—a simple ’elohim which can be understood as a general providence or fate without the grandeur of a monotheistic YHWH.

With all the brothers together in one room, Joseph sends for his father and his household to come and dwell in the region of Goshen that is both close to the Sinai and the pastureland of the Nile. As second only to Pharaoh, Joseph can privilege his family and arrange for them to survive another five years of famine in all the lands.

With the weeping and the invitation to Jacob/Israel, the brothers could again speak to one another. Joseph has well-played his part and his claim to tribal leadership as coming from G*D—except they are in Egypt, not the promised Canaanland.

Genesis 44:14–34

44 14 When Judah and his brothers came into Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they flung themselves to the ground in front of him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed you have done? Did you not know someone like me can divine?”
     16 Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? What can we say or do to prove ourselves innocent? God has found out your servants’ guilt. Here we are, slaves to my lord, we, including the one who’s hand was found with the goblet.”
     17 Joseph said, “Assuredly, I would never do such a thing. The man in whose hand the goblet was found will be my slave. But you, go up in peace to your father.”
     18 Judah approached him and said, “Please, my lord, allow your servant to say a word in my lord’s ear and let not your anger burst against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a young child of his old age, whose brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 You said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I can see him.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father. If he leaves, his father will die.’ 23 You said to your servants, ‘If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you shall never see my face again.’
     24 “When we went up to my father, your servant, we told him the words of my lord.25 Our father told us, ‘Go back and buy us some food.’ 26 We said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down. We cannot see the face of the man if our youngest brother is not with us.’ 27 Your servant, my father, said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore two to me. 28 One went out from me. I thought, “He was torn apart,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from my presence, too, and harm befall him, you will bring down my gray head in despair to Sheol.’ 
     30 “So, should I now return to your servant, my father, and the lad is not with us—his life, so bound to the lad’s— 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die, and your servant will have brought down the gray head of our father, your servant, in grief to Sheol. 
     32 “Your servant, pledged himself for the lad’s safety to my father, saying, ‘If I don’t bring him to you, I will bear the blame to my father for all the days.’ 33 So, please let your servant stay instead of the lad as a slave to my lord. Let the lad go with his brothers. 34 For, how can I go up to my father if the lad is not with us? Let me not see the misfortune that would come upon my father.”

The last time there was a problem between Joseph and his half-brothers, Simeon was incarcerated longer than he expected. This problem seems even more significant. The brothers had agreed that the thief would die, and the rest would become slaves—never returning to their father in Canaan. No magical third time of bowing will get them out of this trap.

As Judah had previously negotiated with his father to have them return with Benjamin to purchase more grain from Egypt, so he takes the lead in negotiating with Joseph toward them returning with grain to Canaan.

Joseph changes the volunteered death sentence to slavery for only the thief.

Judah recognizes the loss of Jacob’s new favorite son from favored Rachel would do Jacob in. Judah rehearses the story from when they first meet Pharaoh’s regent, whose position covers the identity of Joseph. The point of going through their journey to this point is to clarify the impossible choice to return home without Benjamin.

Judah attempts to change the command to leave by offering to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. His staying would affect no one (other than any commitment he had for support of Perez and Zerah, whom he had sired by his sons’ wife, Tamar).

Here there is more than a pregnant pause, an uncomfortable silence.

Many threads of storyline hold their breath to see what is next, what direction is chosen, what choices will be made toward and against the decisions of the powerful.

Genesis 43:31–44:13

43 31 Joseph washed his face, came back, pulled himself together, and said, “Serve bread.” 32 They served him and them by themselves and the Egyptians who ate with him separately because Egyptians will not eat bread with Hebrews; that is abhorrent to Egyptians.33 They were seated before him: the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his birth rank. The men looked in astonishment at each other about this. 34 Portions of food were passed from his presence to them, and Benjamin’s portion was five times as large as theirs. Then they drank and got drunk with him.
44 1 Joseph charged the steward of his household: “Fill the men’s packs with as much food as they can hold, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Put my goblet, the silver goblet, on top of the youngest brother’s pack, along with the silver for his grain.” He did just as Joseph had spoken.
     In the light of dawn, the men were sent off, they and their donkeys. They came out of the city but had not yet gone far when Joseph said to the steward of his house, “Arise, pursue the men; catch them up and say to them, ‘Why have you paid back dishonesty for good? Is not this the goblet from which my lord drinks and uses to divine? What you’ve done is wrong.’”
     He caught up to them and spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak words like these? Never would your servants do such a thing. This silver we found in the mouth of our bags, we returned to you from the land of Canaan. How could we steal from your lord’s house, either silver or gold?” He of your servants who is found with it shall die, and we will become my lord’s slaves.”
     10 He said, “Agreed. By your words, so be it: The one who is found with it shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be clear.” 11 Everyone hurried to lower their bag down to the ground, and each opened his bag. 12 He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest—and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this, they rent their garments. Then each man loaded their donkey, and they returned to the city.

In the process of beginning a feast, Joseph is overcome when he first recognizes his full-brother, Benjamin. After a calming break, Joseph’s first word is to start the feast. This feast, beginning a shift in relationships, begins with a separation of Egyptian from the Hebrews. In this configuration, Joseph, appearing as an Egyptian, is different from the rest of his full- and half- Hebrew brothers. In terms of tribal leadership, there will be a question of whether or not Joseph can leave his Egyptian acculturation behind.

The scene is dream-like in its setting, with the two groups sitting opposite one another. Joseph has ranked the brothers by age—a mysterious sign that raises a curiosity in the brothers without giving away that they were intimately known. Joseph directs the food flowing from his table of entitlement to his brothers. Each half-brother received a portion, and Joseph’s full-brother received five times as much (excessive, even considering he is still a growing boy). To keep them befuddled, they ate and drank until sated and drunk.

After recovering, Joseph continues his trickery. The bags of grain of each half-brother contained both their grain and a return of their silver (twice the previous amount plus the original amount?). Benjamin’s bag contained grain and silver, and Joseph’s special cup used for divination.

Each hung-over brother was in a hurry to leave, lest another test come upon them. No one thought of their last return home, so no check was run on the contents of their packs.

As they neared the horizon, Joseph sent guards after them to look for a cup as spectacular as a previous tunic. After hearing denials of theft and other protestations, the brothers were lined up, again from oldest to youngest, and their bags opened. Each half-brother was found to be innocent of the theft of Joseph’s special goblet. Benjamin, Joseph’s full-brother, was found to have the cup (a balance to the extra portions of food he had received at the feast?).

A great cry and rending of garments followed this revealing of the goblet. Each brother reloaded their donkey, and they returned to the city under guard.At question is whether it is the brother’s word of “death” or the steward’s revision of “slave” that will be the fate of Benjamin.

Genesis 43:15–30

43 15 So the men took this tribute, double the silver in their hand, and Benjamin. They arose, went down to Egypt, and stood in Joseph’s presence. 16  Joseph saw Benjamin with them and said to the steward of his household, “Bring the men to the house; slaughter an animal, and prepare it for it is with me the men will eat at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph said and brought the men to Joseph’s house.
     18 The men were frightened when they were brought into Joseph’s house and said, “Because of the silver that was returned to our sacks before, we have been brought here—to fall upon us, and attack us, and take us as slaves, as well as our donkeys.”
     19 They approached the man who was Joseph’s household steward and said to him at the entrance to the house: 20 “Please, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food, 21 but when we stopped to camp for the night and opened our sacks, there was each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack, the full weight. We have brought it back in our hand, 22 and we’ve brought down with us more silver in hand to buy food. We do not know who put our silver in our sacks.”
     23 He said, “It is well with you; do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure for you in your sacks. Your silver was recorded by me.” And then he brought Simeon out to them.
     24 Then the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet, and fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared the tribute in anticipation of Joseph’s arrival at noon, for they had heard that they would eat bread there. 26 Joseph came into the house; they brought him the tribute their hand had brought into the house, and they bowed down to him, down to the ground. 27 He asked how they were and said, “Is it well with your aged father, about whom you spoke? Is he still alive?”
     28 They said, “All is well with your servant, our father. He is still alive.” And in homage, they bowed down.
     29 He looked up and saw Benjamin, his brother, his mother’s son, and he said, “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke to me?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Joseph’s feelings for his brother overwhelmed him, and he wanted to weep. In haste, he rushed to a chamber and wept there.

The brothers gather what luxuries they can to add to double the amount of silver they took with them before. The extra silver was not just to help appease the Guardian of Grain but a recognition that as there is less grain to sell, its price increases.

With no travel time recorded, stories of foiling thieves and other adventures will have to be told another time. The brothers and Benjamin (still a dividing line between them) stand before Joseph.

Seeing Benjamin, Joseph invites them all (minus Simeon) to a feast. The brothers have not resigned themselves to what will be and resting in mercy. They fear a trap will be sprung on them, even as Simeon and Levi sprung a trap on the people of Shechem.

Their fear hearkens back to the dread they felt when seeing their silver mysteriously present in their bags of grain. So they go on about their innocence to Joseph’s steward and how they are returning that silver plus bringing more for grain.

The steward dismisses their concern as a miracle of bookkeeping—the silver they had previously brought had been properly recorded as received, so any silver they found was of no account to Egypt. Simeon is brought out in the context of payment having been made (not connected with Benjamin). Together, all eleven of the brothers will be brought in for a feast. Without knowing it, the reunion of twelve brothers will begin with a feast.

As the brothers presented their luxuries, Joseph shifts to questions about their father, just as he had previously asked about Benjamin. Readers can wonder if Jacob will also be asked to come down to Egypt.

When finally recognizing Benjamin, Joseph abruptly leaves to weep his joy alone. It is not yet time in Joseph’s administrative plan to reveal who he is. He still must pretend not to be their brother. Besides this internal state, there are the servants and interpreters before whom Joseph must protect his position. Everyone seems conflicted and compromised.

Genesis 43:1–14

43 1 The famine lay heavy in the land. When they had eaten up all the grain they brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Return and buy us some food.”
     Judah said to him, “The man warned us—warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you agree to send our brother with us, then we will go down and buy you food. But if you don’t agree to send him, then we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
     Israel said, “Why have you done me such harm by telling the man you had another brother?”
     They said, “The man asked and asked about ourselves and our kindred: ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have a brother?’ Finally, we told him just what we reported. Could we know he’d say, ‘Bring down your brother?
     Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me. We will arise and go, so that we may live and not die—we, you, and our children. I will act as the guarantor of his safety; you can hold me responsible for any loss. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here in your presence, I will bear the blame for all the days. 10 If we had not lingered so long, we could have returned twice already.”
     11 Israel, their father, said to them, “If must be, then do this: take some of the best of the land and bring down to the man a gift of balm, balsam, and ladanum, honey, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Double the silver you take in your hand, and the silver returned in the mouth of your sacks for it might have been a mistake. 13 And … your brother … take him. Arise, go back to the man, and 14 may El Shaddai give you mercy before the man so that he releases to you your other brother and Benjamin with you. As for me, if I must lose my children, I will lose my children.”

As could be expected in a famine, it does not quickly leave; what provisions can be gathered are too soon gone. Hunger can override caution. Jacob finally recognizes that matters are dire—there is no choice but to return to the one place that still has food available, Egypt, where Simeon is still imprisoned.

Upon hearing Jacob’s instructions to return to Egypt for more food, Judah brings up the awkward reality that Benjamin is key to a return for more food. For Judah and his brothers, this is not a nicety, but the very real question of their own freedom. Without Benjamin, they face either dungeon or death or both.

Israel whines and blames his sons for revealing the presence of Benjamin in a moment of danger for them. As one, the brothers defend their response based on the narrowness of Joseph’s questions—as though he knew the trap he was setting for them. How could they know that Benjamin would be the detail the Grain Seller would focus on?

Judah notes the situation and offers to be the guilt-bearer should anything untoward happen to Benjamin. He also recognizes they could have been back, twice over, had they initially done what was commanded to release brother Simeon.

Again, implacable hunger removes arguments. The choices narrow down to one. Israel accedes to Judah; Benjamin is released.

Once this decision is reached, Israel can again live in the gift of mystery as he did after his vision at the ramp. Mercy is, again, a live basis on which to live. Every attempt to control our outcome is a denial of trust in mercy.

This decision not only restores mercy to a primary place in dealings with choices but adds the blessing of humble resignation—que sera sera—that invites risk based on necessity as well as a promise of a future beyond self—that of multiplying “seed” for days ahead.

Genesis 42:25–38

42 25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put back their silver into each one’s sack, and to provide them with supplies for their trip. It was done. 26 The brothers loaded their grain onto their donkeys and went out from there. 
     27 One of them opened their sack to feed his donkey when they camped for the night and saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My silver has been returned. It’s right here in my sack.” The heart went out of them, trembling, they said to each other, “What is this that God has done to us?”
     29 When they returned to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told all that had befallen them: 30 “The man who governed the country spoke harshly to us and accused us of being spies in the country. 31 We said, ‘We are honest. We would never spy. 32 We twelve are brothers, all our father’s sons. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 The man, country’s administrator, said, ‘Here is how I will know you are honest: Leave one of your brothers with me, take grain for those famished in your households, and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me, so I will know that you are not spies, but honest. I will give your brother back to you, and you may engage in trade throughout the land.’”
     35 When they opened their sacks, each one found a pouch of his silver in his sack. When they and their father saw the pouches of silver, they were afraid. 36 Jacob their father said to them, “I am bereaved. Joseph is no more. Simeon is no more. Benjamin, you would take? All this comes upon me!”
     37 Reuben spoke to his father, “My two sons, you may put to death if I do not bring him back to you. Place him in my hands, and I will return him to you.”
     38 Jacob said, “My son will not go down with you because his brother is dead, and he alone remains. Should harm befall him on the way you go, you will bring down on my gray hair, grief, all the way to Sheol.”

With Joseph’s decision to keep Simeon as a hostage, nine brothers prepare to leave with the grain they have purchased from the Grain Master. Joseph, with Jacob’s trickery running in his veins, orders those filling the bags with grain to sneak the silver used to purchase the grain into the middle of the bags. Joseph’s servants also supplied provisions for the brother’s return trip.

That evening, or a next, one of the brothers found silver in his bag while feeding his donkey. In reporting his find to his brothers, they were flabbergasted. The longer they tried to make sense of this discovery, the more scared they became. In the end, fear best describes their state. The silver traps them into not only being accused of being spies but also charged with thievery. Who else but G*D could arrange this state of affairs that turns “good fortune” into a trap?

Upon arriving in Canaan, the brothers tell Jacob of their trip. They speak of being called spies, of the need to take Benjamin back to Egypt to prove their innocence, and the trap of the silver that will be present should they return to ransom Simeon.

Jacob meets, again, his fear of what Esau would do to him—take his flocks and destroy his family (well, sons). In typical Jacob fashion, Jacob makes the situation all about him. Joseph came by his centering dreams honestly.

Reuben, still looking to get back into Jacob’s good graces, offers his two sons to Jacob as collateral for Benjamin’s safety.

Jacob is adamant that Rachel’s remaining son will not be put at risk. Choosing Benjamin means Simeon is disposable for Jacob. As time drags on, readers may wonder how Simeon is faring in the pit of a dungeon.

Genesis 42:18–24

42 18 Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I’m a God-fearing man. 19 If you are honest, let one of your brothers remain in this prison, and the rest of you go and take provisions to supply your famine-hungry households.20 Then, bring your youngest brother back to me to prove your words are truthful, and you will not die.”
     They prepared. 21 Each brother said to the other, “It is true that we are guilty for our brother when we saw his heart’s distress. When he pleaded with us for mercy, we did not listen. That is why this distress has now come to us.”
     22 Reuben declared to them, “Didn’t I say, ‘Do not wrong the boy’? But you would not listen. Now his blood demands requital.” 
     23 They did not know that Joseph understood them because there was an interpreter between them. 24 He stepped away from them and wept. 
     When he was able to return, he spoke to them and, he took Simeon from them and put him in fetters before their eyes.

After three days of imprisonment, Joseph changes the charge he made that one brother will be sent to bring Benjamin to Egypt (not father Jacob/Israel). Now the offer is to keep one brother imprisoned here while the other nine return to fetch Benjamin. In both cases, the question is which brother should go or which to stay. In each case, the brother chosen may be different.

Reuben spoke up to declare the guilt of the brothers for selling Joseph into Ishmaelite hands. It was he who had secretly planned to release Joseph for his own purposes. There is no indication that Reuben would have been chosen by the brothers to go home for Benjamin. He had already shown a willingness to betray them for his own benefit when Joseph was in the dry pit.

At this point, readers learn that Joseph had tricked the brothers by only speaking to them through an interpreter. The brothers did not understand that Joseph understood them—he no longer had a Hebrew accent when speaking Egyptian.

After a break to control his emotions after hearing Reuben’s confession on behalf of all the brothers, Joseph returns and is the one to choose Simeon to be the one held captive.

Why Simeon was selected is difficult to determine. Simeon, second born of Leah, may simply be the oldest after Reuben, who Joseph exempts after his confession.

All we have otherwise heard about Simeon is his being named and then his joining with Levi to slaughter the newly circumcised Shechemites. Neither of these issues would particularly concern Joseph and his path to the center.

Genesis 42:5–17

42 The sons of Israel came to buy grain, among others who also came,  since the famine had spread to the land of Canaan.
     As for Joseph, he was governing over the land and he was the one selling grain to all the people of the land. Joseph’s brothers arrived and bowed down to him, their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended he did not recognize them. He spoke harshly to them and said to them, “Where have you come from?”
     And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.”
     Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and said to them, “You are spies! You’ve come to see the land’s vulnerability.”
     10 They said to him, “No, Lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest. Your servants have never been spies.”
     12 He said to them, “No! You’ve come to look for the land’s weakness.”
     13 They said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
     14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I’ve said to you. You are spies! 15 Thus will you be tested by Pharaoh! You shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you to bring your brother, while the rest of you will remain as prisoners. Your words will be tested, whether there is truth in you or not. As Pharaoh lives, you are certainly spies.”
     17 He put them all in custody for three days.

Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to purchase needed food. Genesis reports that it was the sons of Israel who arrived in Egypt. These two designations for one person will continue down the ages as representative of pre- and post-Eden, of the interpenetration of saint and sinner or G*D and ’adam or a moment where past and future negotiate their connection.

There was no thought given by the brothers to also look for Joseph, even though that may well have been their fear when Jacob was sending them forth—they did not want to accidentally bump into Joseph.

Well, Joseph would have himself micromanaging the distribution of the grain. After all, isn’t he the center? When the time comes, will the brothers see what they don’t want to see?

It is reported that Joseph recognized his brothers. The same word for recognition is now used regarding Joseph as it had been asked of Jacob regarding Joseph’s blood-stained tunic and of Judah when asked about what he had left with Tamar.

Joseph’s head was as high with his golden collar as it had been in his fancy tunic. That aura of importance is universal and might have been caught by the brothers but for the cultural dynamic of humility and their downward-looking shame at having to buy rather than be self-sufficient as a tribe.

Joseph speaks as harshly to his brothers as they had done to him when they sold him from one pit to another. After close interrogation, mention is made of the youngest brother, Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother.

A test is set up that Joseph will administer in the name of Pharaoh. The test is of the solidarity of the brothers. Can they work together? Trust one another? Risk for one another?

With the accusation of being spies hanging over them, they are put in a dungeon for three days to think about their response to Joseph’s demand.