The ongoing stalemate was broken by the most elemental of things – hunger. The famine got steadily worse, and the supplies that the brothers had brought from Egypt had run out. Jacob needed food for himself and his family, so he suggested that the brothers go to buy some.
Judah stepped up as the spokesman for the brothers and reminded Jacob that they had been solemnly warned not to return without their brother Benjamin. Jacob, as was often the case, acted with self-pity, and didn’t want to comply. Judah then, pointing out that the family would die out if they did not get food, asked his father to send Benjamin with him. Jacob offered himself as a pledge of Benjamin’s safety. Judah finally told Jacob bluntly that they needed to get on with it.
Jacob, seeing no other option, caved in. Jacob then instructed his sons to take presents and double the money. Finally, Jacob committed them to God (43:14).
Soon, the brothers found themselves standing before Joseph once more. Joseph saw Benjamin with them and immediately ordered his steward to take them to his house and prepare dinner for them. This ratcheted up the brothers’ fear, and they at first suspected that Joseph wished to assault them and seize them and their donkeys because of the money that was replaced in their sacks.
They decide to speak to Joseph’s steward about the money, and the steward disturbed them even more by responding, ‘Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your fathers has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money’ (43:23).
Simeon was then brought out and reunited with his brothers, and the steward very courteously took them into Joseph’s house, and washed their feet in oriental fashion and fed their pack animals, while they got their little present ready for Joseph’s arrival. They had feared assault, yet they were being treated as honored guests. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
Joseph arrived, and they gave him the present and bowed down to the ground before him, prostrate on the ground (43:28). Now all eleven sheaves were bowing, and Joseph must have been overwhelmed with a sense of fulfilment. How many years he had hoped for this moment, and it had arrived.
He looked up, and his attention was caught by Benjamin, his only full sibling. At this point Joseph, deeply moved by the sight of his brother, could no longer control himself and rushed out to a private room and wept.
Why did Joseph not just throw his arms around Benjamin and tell them all who he was? He clearly did not think that the time was yet ripe for disclosure. His compassion at this point was for Benjamin, not the others. Benjamin had not been involved in their wickedness. Joseph needed to be certain that they had really repented, and as yet he had little evidence of that. The story had not yet reached its climax.
He washed his face, composed himself, came out, and ordered the food served. He sat alone, as Egyptian custom dictated, and they sat at a separate table and were amazed as it slowly dawned on them that they were seated in the exact order of their ages. Now these were grown men, born in fairly rapid succession, and it would have been impossible for a stranger to guess their ages accurately, and the probability of getting it right by chance is negligible. It was uncanny. The seating arrangement was obviously a result of intelligent design; a higher hand was at work. What could it possibly mean?
Then another odd thing happened. Food was carried from Joseph’s table to theirs, and Benjamin was unaccountably given five times as much as anyone else. They drank and made merry together, though a nervous merriment.
What is it that awakens the human conscience and draws a woman or man to Jesus Christ? We have been looking at some of the means God uses in this story of his awakening a sense of sin and bringing repentance in the lives of Joseph’s brothers. He had used the pinch of material want, the pain of harsh treatment, the press of enforced solitude, and the proof of his presence in small things.
These means had shaken the brothers out of their spiritual lethargy and brought them to confess their sin – at least among themselves. Still there was a sense in which the most effective of God’s means were yet to come. What further means would God use to melt their hearts to turn in repentance? Join us as we learn what is this most effective of God’s means to draw sinners to himself.
I hope you can join us this coming Lord’s Day as we see “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
In Christ’s love,