The famine was severe, so the ten older brothers went to Egypt to buy grain, but Jacob did not allow Benjamin to go. Somehow, he just did not trust them. I wonder, in his heart, if he had an inkling that Joseph's disappearance was because of them.
When the brothers went to Egypt, Joseph roughly accused them of being spies four times (42:9, 12, 14, 16). Joseph's teenage dream was heading toward fulfillment! He retained Simeon and asked for them to return with Benjamin. If not, Simeon would be killed. Commentators suspect that Simeon was retained because Reuben had tried to save Joseph all those years ago (42:22) and Simeon was the Jacob's second son and known to be cruel due to his part in the slaying of the Shechemites (34:25; 49:5-7).
Joseph was not trying to be cruel in return for what they had done to him. I believe he did this in order to bring the brothers to consider their dastardly deed toward him so long ago. He did it in love, though his tone was harsh. It had the desired effect because it caused the brothers to express remorse for their actions toward Joseph. This touched him (42:24; 43:30; 45:2, 14; 50:1,17). The money in their sacks brought about even further conviction.
The brothers were in a tough spot. Simeon would not be freed unless Jacob gave them permission to take Benjamin to Joseph. Even the offer of Reuben's two sons would not make Jacob bend.
The drama continues to unfold. Stay tuned!
There is archaeological evidence of the famine during Joseph's time. This is quoted from Pharaohs and Kings by David Rohl:
There is archaeological evidence for a famine preceded by bumper harvests at the time of Joseph. (335)
For 60 years starting with King Amenemhat III the Egyptians monitored the level of the Nile inundation near the 2nd cataract (rapids). (335)
What was different about the inundations to require that they should be so closely monitored? There was a very drastic rise in the Nile flood levels in the reign of Amenemhat III. (337-338)
In Amenemhat's 12th year the flood levels rise 27 feet above the 'good' flood level. There would be 3-4 times the volume of water which would have led to famine. The water would wash away villages, break down dikes and causeways and take longer to subside so the fields can't be made ready for planting season. (340)
Joseph had to be "cruel to be kind." You have no doubt heard the song by that name, but did you know it was originally written by Shakespeare?
To punish me with this, and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So again good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 173-179Hamlet used this phrase to justify the harsh words toward his mother for indulging her second husband, King Claudius, who murdered his brother to become king and marry her!
Joseph's harshness startles me, but sometimes, harshness leads people to wake up to their sin. I think back to a time when I had a harsh rebuke for a woman in my Bible study. She was being really ornery and out of turn during one of our discussions. I startled myself by my words, but I had to say it came out of me from a place of love deep in my soul. We laugh about it now. She is so thankful for that rebuke. It was a turning point for her.
I believe that Joseph's harshness was a turning point for his brother's too. It led to remorse for their sin and a greater fear of God. Nothing but good can come from that! It is the beginning of one of the most beautiful reconciliations recorded in the Bible. Stay tuned!
Flash forward to the summer of 2010, while meeting with Jennifer, a woman I was discipling. I felt the need to speak truth from a place of love in my heart regarding her discounting my suggestion that she meet my Chinese friend, Jane. My rebuke startled me too. It came from somewhere deep in my soul. I was concerned that I had hurt her by my harshness, and she immediately said, "Carol, that is why I meet with you. You challenge me." Since that time, Jane and Jennifer have become the best of friends, and they have partnered together to impact the lives of several Chinese women on campus! She has said over and over again how thankful she is for my challenge. I am so thankful to meet with teachable women like Jennifer and Jane.
Now that you have heard these stories, you are probably afraid to meet me. LOL! Do not be. I once told a woman in my Bible study, "Just assume I love you," when she seemed afraid of me and my directness. From then on, we settled into a relationship of grace. I really believe that Joseph's harshness paved the road to a relationship of grace with his brothers too. Stay tuned!
Think of a time when you had to be "cruel to be kind." How did God use it? What lessons can we learn from Joseph in this chapter?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.