The Testing of the Family

by Lois Tverberg

Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us. Now comes the reckoning for his blood.” They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. He turned away from them and wept. – Genesis 42:21, 23-24

The final scenes in Joseph’s story, when his brothers come to Egypt, are very dramatic but somewhat of a puzzle. Why does he put them through so much torment and interrogate them as he does?

As we read the final story, it helps to remember that Rachel’s sons (Joseph and Benjamin) had a very cold relationship with the rest of the family because of Jacob’s favoritism. Joseph was very close to his brother Benjamin, but was convinced that his other brothers were liars and potential murderers for what they had done to him. When they came into his courts, he certainly would have been scanning their group for the face of Benjamin, but when he was missing, he probably worried that his brothers might have killed him because he was their father’s other favorite son. He devised a plan to force them to bring Benjamin to him, to see him and perhaps to protect him from their violence.

Joseph Explaining the Dream to Pharoah, Jean Adrien GuignetJoseph was also forcing his brothers to live through some of what he went through, to see how they would respond. Just as they put him in a cistern, he put them in a dungeon (the same word is used for both). By returning their silver in their sacks, it appears that he was reminding them that they had sold him for silver long ago. And, by imprisoning Simeon, the brothers were forced to see their father Jacob go through anguish yet again at the loss of a son in their company.

Finally, when Benjamin came with them, he treated him with favoritism to arouse their envy, and then put them to the ultimate test: when his cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, would they leave him as a slave as they did Joseph many years before? He must have thought that their jealous dislike for their half-brother would make it an easy choice.

Through this time of testing of the brothers, the brothers went through much anguish, believing that these troubles had fallen upon them because of what they did to Joseph. But, this process of soul-searching caused them to repent and change. For the sake of Benjamin, they all returned to plead for his release, showing that they considered him their brother, worthy of risking their lives for sake. And Judah, whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, showed his complete repentance when he offered himself in the place of Benjamin as slave.

The family had finally come together – they would not abandon Benjamin as they did Joseph, as they did before. This was finally what brought healing, and they would never be the same again.