Chapter 14

The seven years of scarcity began, just as Joseph had predicted. "And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph . . . what he saith unto you, do. And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph . . . sold unto the Egyptians."

The famine extended beyond the borders of Egypt and was severely felt in Jacob's household. Learning that food was plentiful in Egypt, he sent ten of his sons there to buy grain. Along with other applicants, they presented themselves before the ruler of the land. As Joseph saw his brothers bowing and showing him homage, his dreams came to his mind. Looking over the group, he quickly saw that Benjamin was not with them. Fearing that they might have done him harm also, he determined to find out the truth of the matter. Speaking roughly, he said to them, "Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

"Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come," they replied. "We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants no spies . . . . Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not."

Pretending to doubt their truthfulness, the governor declared at he would prove the truthfulness of their statement by requiring them to remain in Egypt till one of their number should go and return with their youngest brother. If they would not agree to this, they were to be treated as spies. The brothers could not consent to this arrangement, since the time required for carrying it out would cause their families to suffer for lack of food. Moreover, how could anyone of them face their father under such circumstances? It appeared very likely that they were to be put to death anyway; and why should Benjamin come down to Egypt, only to share their fate? They decided to remain and suffer together. Accordingly, they were put into prison, where they remained three days.

On the third day, Joseph called for the brothers. He feared to delay their return trip longer, as already his father and the families with him might be suffering for lack of food. "This do, and live; for I fear God: if ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: but bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die." This plan they agreed to accept, though they expressed little hope that their father would let Benjamin return with them.

Before allowing his brothers to leave, Joseph gave directions that each man's money was to be secretly placed in the mouth of his grain sack. On their return trip, one of the brothers, upon opening his sack, was surprised to find his bag of silver inside. As the news spread, the brothers looked at each other in dismay. In alarm, they said to one another, "What is this that God hath done unto us?"—should they regard it as a token of good from the Lord, or had He suffered it to take place in order to punish them for their sins?

At home in Canaan, Jacob was anxiously awaiting the return of his sons. On their arrival, the whole encampment gathered eagerly around them as they related everything that had taken place. The treatment they had received from the Egyptian governor seemed to suggest some evil plan. Their fears were confirmed, when, as each man opened his own sack, he found his money inside. In his distress, the elderly father exclaimed, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave."

In the process of time, the supply of grain that had been brought from Egypt was nearly gone. The sons of Jacob well knew that there would be no purpose in returning to Egypt without Benjamin. They had little hope of changing their father's resolution, and in silence they waited for him to speak. Deeper and deeper grew the shadow of approaching hunger. In the anxious faces of all, the old man read their need. At last he said, "Go again, buy us a little food."

Judah reminded him that the governor had been very clear in stating that they were not to return without Benjamin. As he saw his father's determination begin to weaken, he urged him to trust Benjamin to his care. He promised to be surety for his brother and to bear the blame forever if he failed to restore the younger brother to his father.

Jacob could no longer withhold his permission, and he directed his sons to prepare for the journey. In addition to extra money, he told them to take the ruler a present of such things as the famine-wasted country afforded—"a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds."

Upon their return, the brothers were taken to the governor's palace where a meal was prepared for them. They were greatly alarmed, fearing that they were about to be called to account for the money found in their sacks. In their distress, they spoke with the steward of the house, relating to him the circumstances of their visit to Egypt. They then informed him that they had brought back the money found in their sacks, as well as more money with which to buy food. The man replied, "Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them." They were greatly relieved.

When the governor again met them, he asked, "Is your father ill, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?" Bowing before him, they assured him that their father was well. Then his eye rested upon Benjamin, and he asked, "Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me?" And he said, "God be gracious unto thee, my son. " Overcome with feelings of tenderness, he could say no more and left the room.

Having recovered his self-possession, he returned, and all proceeded with the meal. When all were seated, the brothers were surprised to see that they were arranged in exact order, according to their ages. In order to test them and see their true feelings about their younger brother, Joseph ordered Benjamin's servings to be five times as large as that of his brothers. Supposing that Joseph did not understand their language, they spoke freely to each other, allowing him an opportunity to learn their real feelings. Still he desired to test them further. Before they left, he ordered that his own drinking cup of silver should be hidden in Benjamin's sack.

Joyfully they set out on their return, believing that they had safely escaped the danger that had seemed to surround them. They had only reached the outskirts of the city, however, when they were overtaken by the governor's steward, who sternly asked, "Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good? Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?" This cup was supposed to possess the power of detecting any poisonous substance placed therein. In those days, cups of this kind were highly valued as a safeguard against murder by poisoning.

To the steward's accusation, the travelers reminded him of how they had even returned the money found in their sacks; much less would they steal the governor's cup. As a pledge of their sincerity, they told him that if the cup were found in any of their sacks, that person would die and the rest would return as servants of the governor.

The steward responded, "Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless."

The search began immediately. "Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground." The steward examined each, beginning with Reuben's, taking them in order down to that of the youngest. The cup was found in Benjamin's sack.

The brothers tore their clothing in token of utter wretchedness and slowly returned to the city. By their own promise, Benjamin was doomed to a life of slavery. They followed the steward to the palace; and finding the governor yet there, they bowed themselves before him. "What deed is this that ye have done?" he asked. "Wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?" By saying this, Joseph was trying to draw from them an acknowledgment of their sin. He had never claimed the power of divination, but was willing to have them believe that he could read the secrets of their lives.

Judah answered, "What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.

"God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father."

In his deep distress, Judah now drew near to the ruler and exclaimed, "Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him." In words of touching eloquence, he described his father's grief at the loss of Joseph and his reluctance to let Benjamin come with them to Egypt, as he was the only son left of his mother, Rachel, whom Jacob so dearly loved. "Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life; it shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father."

Satisfied that his brothers were truly sorry for the wrongs of their past, Joseph tearfully cried, "I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?"

His brothers stood motionless, dumb with fear and amazement. The ruler of Egypt was their brother Joseph whom they had envied and would have murdered, and finally sold as a slave! They remembered how they had despised his dreams and had worked to prevent their fulfillment. Yet they had acted their part in fulfilling those dreams. Now that they were completely in his power, they little doubted that he would avenge the wrong they had done him.

Seeing their perplexity, he said kindly, "Come near to me, I pray you." As they came closer, he continued, "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life." Feeling that they had already suffered enough for their cruelty toward him, he sought to lessen the bitterness of their self-reproach.

Joseph told them that there were still five years remaining before the famine would end. He urged them, therefore, to move as quickly as possible to bring their families and livestock down to Egypt where he could supply their needs.

The brothers returned to their father with the joyful news that Joseph was still alive and that he was governor over all the land of Egypt. At first the elderly man could not believe what he heard. When, however, he saw Benjamin and the long train of wagons and loaded animals, he was convinced. Joyfully, he exclaimed. "It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die."

Upon reaching Egypt, the company went directly to the land of Goshen where Joseph met them. As he saw the travelers approaching, his love would no longer be controlled. Springing from his chariot, he hurried forward to welcome his father.

Joseph outlived his father fifty-four years. He saw his people increase greatly in number and in prosperity. When at last he saw that his end was near, he called his family together. His parting words were, "God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence." He then required them to solemnly promise that when they left Egypt, they would carry up his bones with them to the land of Canaan.

Joseph's brothers proposed to kill him but were finally satisfied to sell him as a slave to prevent his becoming greater than themselves. They thought they had placed him where they would never again be troubled with his dreams and where there would be no possibility of their fulfillment. It was by their very course, however, that God overruled to bring about that which they designed should never take place—that he should rule over them. This fact did not, however, lessen the guilt of his brothers. Their crime was just as deserving of blame as though God's providential hand had not controlled events for His own glory.

Joseph walked with God; and when he suffered because of his innocence, he meekly bore it without murmuring. When his brothers acknowledged their sin before him, he freely forgave them and showed by his acts of kindness and love that he held no resentful feelings for their former cruel conduct toward him. Joseph's self-control, his patience in hardship, and his unwavering faithfulness are left on record for the benefit of all who should afterward live on the earth.

This chapter is based on Genesis 41–50