Famine had spread to Canaan, and others in the region had gone to Egypt to buy grain. Jacob was an old man now, and there was no one to take his place at the head of the family. Certainly this was on his mind when he rebuked his sons for their apparent indecisiveness and lack of motivation. The family was in jeopardy, and they stood there doing nothing. There was a void in leadership- a void that Jacob recognized Joseph would have filled. Jacob sent his sons to Egypt, but held back Benjamin, the youngest, and the other son of his favorite wife. With Joseph believed to be dead, Jacob was especially protective of Benjamin. This sent the message to the other sons that they were expendable compared to Benjamin. Jacob had not learned the faults of favoritism.
Joseph was the viceroy of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. Joseph organized and oversaw the sale of grain. Though he did not handle every transaction himself, he apparently handled some particular cases, such as those of foreigners for security purposes. Ultimately, considering the large number of people coming for grain, it could only have been God’s providence that had brought the brothers before Joseph. In twenty years, Joseph had never ventured to contact his family even when it was within his power to do so. Joseph had not arranged for or planned on meeting his brothers.
Joseph was about 37 years old now and had assimilated into the Egyptian culture, so it is understandable that his brothers did not recognize him. He also spoke through an interpreter. It was easier for Joseph to recognize them because they all came together at once and looked alike. The brothers bowed to Joseph out of respect and humility. They unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy they had attempted to thwart with the sale of Joseph into slavery. Joseph, in contrast, remembered the dream and realized the prophecy was being fulfilled. This does not mean that Joseph was comfortable or certain of what God’s plan was. It does mean he knew God was working, and had a plan.
He accused them of being spies. This was a plausible accusation for him to make as a ruler, as Egypt was a wealthy country in the midst of a wide spread famine. As a brother, he knew they were not spies. Joseph’s accusation was a test. He was interested in their reactions, not their suffering. If Joseph truly desired vengeance, he could have had it, and quite easily. Joseph also could not have accused them of their true crime without revealing himself.
In all of this, Joseph told his brothers openly he feared God, which probably puzzled them even more, but it did lend itself to the idea that they were being punished. The brothers spoke to each other in Hebrew, and did not know Joseph could understand, which validated the sincerity of their confession. They attributed their suffering to the wrong they had done Joseph. Reuben reflected on his attempt to prevent them from hurting Joseph. Joseph did not know this, and after hearing it, he could not hold in his emotions any longer. He turned from them and wept. He wept for their sin, the necessity of their trial, the confession of their guilt, and over his love for them. Joseph loved his brothers. Joseph hid his weeping as not to reveal himself.
Simeon’s binding was done as a witness to his brothers. Why Joseph chose Simon is unclear, but it is possible Simon was the main aggressor when he was taken and sold. If this was the case, then Joseph was silencing the aggressive influence on his brothers.
We should not sit idly by in suffering but work diligently in faith. We should learn from our previous faults and not repeat them. Those who have persecuted us in the past may be brought before us again. It is wise not to open ourselves too readily to those who have persecuted or wronged us in the past. God may grant us refuge from possible harm by making us invisible to persecutors. We may guard our hearts. It is fair to question the hearts and motives of those we know have done evil to us. God will reveal to us the truth. When anyone who has wronged us is brought before us, we are always in a position to be, and always should be merciful. Revenge, even when it is within our power, must not be taken. It is always best to seek God’s guidance in such cases, and we should not rush to do things our way. God uses us to bring others to repentance and to the acceptance of Christ.