From the time he had set eyes on his brothers, he wanted to know whether they had changed. He wanted to forgive his brothers. But forgiveness isn’t cheap.
His brothers hadn’t recognised him although he knew them in an instant. After all – all they saw was an Egyptian who was in charge who seemed rather harsh, not the Joseph they had sold into slavery sixteen years earlier. They were his brothers, but had they changed?
Once he had established that his father and full-brother, Benjamin, were alive and well, he had the idea of a test for his brothers – a test to see if they had really changed. He realised that with him no longer being there, the favourite status he had enjoyed would have gone to his little brother. The question he needed answered: were they treating Benjamin the same way that they had treated him?
As they were leaving he told them that the price for seeing him again to get more grain would be to bring their younger brother – then he would know that they weren’t really spies.
When the grain they brought back ran out, Jacob was hesitant to send the last son of Rachel with the other brothers. But the famine was not letting up and their supply of food was reaching the critical level. Need dictated that they go purchase more food, even if it meant taking Benjamin on the journey.
This time as they left Egypt for home, Joseph had his special cup planted in Benjamin’s bag – this was his test to see what the brothers would do, to see if they would abandon their brother to save themselves.
After they left he sent his men after them to find the cup he had planted. The brothers were so confident that no one had stolen from the terrible Egyptian lord that they said if the cup was found with anyone in their party, that person deserved to die. They searched the bags of grain from the oldest to the youngest. And, of course, they found it in Benjamin’s sack.
Now what would they do? Save themselves and leave Benjamin to face the consequences? Or would they defend their youngest brother?
They all went with Benjamin back to Joseph’s house. Judah spoke for the brothers: “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has exposed the sin of your servants! We are now my lord’s slaves, we and the one in whose possession the cup was found” (Genesis 44:16 NET). Not only did they not abandon their brother, but they admitted to the sin of what they had done earlier to Joseph!
Joseph emphasised that only the one who was guilty needed to become his slave. This was one final test. Judah explained the situation: “When he sees the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the grey hair of your servant our father in sorrow to the grave. Indeed, your servant pledged security for the boy with my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame before my father all my life’” (Genesis 44:31-32).
The brothers had changed. They were no longer the men who hated him because he was their father’s favourite and had callously sold him into slavery without a second thought of what it would do to their father. They were deeply concerned about their brother and father – and even offered themselves as a substitute for Benjamin.
Notice that Joseph didn’t automatically forgive his brothers when he first saw them, although he desired to do that. He also wanted to know if they had changed. He had a forgiving spirit and was overjoyed when they demonstrated how much they had changed.
Isn’t this what God wants of us? To have a forgiving spirit – to want to forgive. It is when we want to forgive that we will not hang on to wrongs done to us but will look for the opportunity to forgive. May we develop the spirit of forgiveness.
Readings for next week:
7 September – Genesis 46
8 September – Genesis 47
9 September – Genesis 48
10 September – Genesis 49
11 September – Genesis 50