42 5 The sons of Israel came to buy grain, among others who also came, since the famine had spread to the land of Canaan.
6 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. 7 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.”
8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 9 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.