When Jacob learned that grain rations were available in Egypt, he said to his sons: “Why do you keep gaping at one another?
I hear,” he went on, “that rations of grain are available in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, that we may stay alive rather than die of hunger.”
So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy an emergency supply of grain from Egypt.
It was only Joseph’s full brother Benjamin that Jacob did not send with the rest, for he thought some disaster might befall him.
Thus, since there was famine in the land of Canaan also, the sons of Israel were among those who came to procure rations.
It was Joseph, as governor of the country, who dispensed the rations to all the people. When Joseph’s brothers came and knelt down before him with their faces to the ground,
he recognized them as soon as he saw them. But he concealed his own identity from them and spoke sternly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked them. They answered, “From the land of Canaan, to procure food.”
When Joseph recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him,
1 he was reminded of the dreams he had about them. He said to them: “You are spies. You have come to see the nakedness of the land.”
“No, my lord,” they replied. “On the contrary, your servants have come to procure food.
All of us are sons of the same man. We are honest men; your servants have never been spies.”
But he answered them: “Not so! You have come to see the nakedness of the land.”
“We your servants,” they said, “were twelve brothers, sons of a certain man in Canaan; but the youngest one is at present with our father, and the other one is gone.”
“It is just as I said,” Joseph persisted; “you are spies.
This is how you shall be tested: unless your youngest brother comes here, I swear by the life of Pharaoh that you shall not leave here.
So send one of your number to get your brother, while the rest of you stay here under arrest. Thus shall your words be tested for their truth; if they are untrue, as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!”
With that, he locked them up in the guardhouse for three days.
On the third day Joseph said to them: “Do this, and you shall live; for I am a God-fearing man.
If you have been honest, only one of your brothers need be confined in this prison, while the rest of you may go and take home provisions for your starving families.
But you must come back to me with your youngest brother. Your words will thus be verified, and you will not die.” To this they agreed.
To one another, however, they said: “Alas, we are being punished because of our brother. We saw the anguish of his heart when he pleaded with us, yet we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has now come upon us.”
“Didn’t I tell you,” broke in Reuben, “not to do wrong to the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now comes the reckoning for his blood.”
They did not know, of course, that Joseph understood what they said, since he spoke with them through an interpreter.
But turning away from them, he wept. When he was able to speak to them again, he had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
Then Joseph gave orders to have their containers filled with grain, their money replaced in each one’s sack, and provisions given them for their journey. After this had been done for them,
they loaded their donkeys with the rations and departed.
2 At the night encampment, when one of them opened his bag to give his donkey some fodder, he was surprised to see his money in the mouth of his bag.
“My money has been returned!” he cried out to his brothers. “Here it is in my bag!” At that their hearts sank. Trembling, they asked one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”
When they got back to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them.
“The man who is lord of the country,” they said, “spoke to us sternly and put us in custody as if we were spying on the land.
But we said to him: ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies.
There were twelve of us brothers, sons of the same father; but one is gone, and the youngest one is at present with our father in the land of Canaan.’
Then the man who is lord of the country said to us: ‘This is how I shall know if you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, while the rest of you go home with rations for your starving families.
When you come back to me with your youngest brother, and I know that you are honest men and not spies, I will restore your brother to you, and you may move about freely in the land.'”
When they were emptying their sacks, there in each one’s sack was his moneybag! At the sight of their moneybags, they and their father were dismayed.
Their father Jacob said to them: “Must you make me childless? Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone, and now you would take away Benjamin! Why must such things always happen to me?”
Then Reuben told his father: “Put him in my care, and I will bring him back to you. You may kill my own two sons if I do not return him to you.”
But Jacob replied: “My son shall not go down with you. Now that his full brother is dead, he is the only one left. If some disaster should befall him on the journey you must make, you would send my white head down to the nether world in grief.”
1 [9,12] The nakedness of the land: the military weakness of the land, like human nakedness, should not be seen by strangers.
2 [27-28] These two verses are from the Yahwist source, whereas the rest of the chapter is from the Elohist source, in which the men find the money in their sacks (not “bags” – a different Hebrew word) only when they arrive home (⇒ Genesis 42:35); cf ⇒ Genesis 43:21.