Joseph’s brothers are not perfect, but the way in which they approach their father suggests a transformation by the Spirit.
“As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid” (Gen. 42:35).
Though his brothers protested their innocence, Joseph’s accusation that they were spies (Gen. 42:7–16) was actually reasonable. In ancient times, guards were placed at the frontier borders of Egypt and would interrogate travelers to see if they were engaged in espionage. In times of distress, such as famine, spies would look for weaknesses in the ruling empire and seek out ways to steal the country’s grain. Joseph’s brothers expected him to be an Egyptian native, not their kin, and his reasonable accusation confirms their erroneous suspicions and keeps his identity hidden so that he can test them.
Today’s passage offers further proof of the brothers’ change of heart. As they report back to Jacob about their time in Egypt, they do not reveal completely what really happened, apparently out of love for their father. For instance, they do not say that Simeon is a prisoner, he has only been “left” in the land of the Nile, suggesting he was the guest of the pharaoh’s steward (v. 33). They also leave out Joseph’s threat of execution should they return without Benjamin (vv. 18–20, 34) to allay any anxiety their father had about letting his youngest son go with them to Egypt. Moreover, Reuben shows concern for his father’s feelings by offering his own sons as a pledge of Benjamin’s safety, though his suggestion itself is ill-conceived at best (v. 37).
We might fault Joseph’s brothers for playing fast and loose with the truth, but it seems they are confident Joseph will live up to his end of the bargain and all will be well if they can persuade their father to send Benjamin with them. After all, Joseph did say that he fears God and proved it when he let most of them go back to Canaan, enabling them to carry more than just a little food for the family (vv. 14–25). Still, even if their motives in changing the account of their stay are not entirely pure, the fear prompted by money in their sacks shows us they are realizing their guilt (v. 35). They are reminded of their earlier sin; just as they had returned home with money but no Joseph (37:28–36), now they have money but no Simeon (42:36). Indeed, God is doing something (v. 28); He is working in their hearts to make them acknowledge and turn from their sin (John 16:7–8).
Gentleness is one fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (Gal. 5:22–23). Joseph’s brothers are not perfect, but the way in which they approach their father suggests a new concern for Jacob’s feelings and their transformation by the Spirit. Gentle people are not wimps. They do correct others with hard truths if need be (2 Tim. 2:24–26), but they do not relish seeing others torn down. Instead, they yearn to see brokenness produce repentance. Are you growing in gentleness?
Passages for Further Study
- Isa. 32:9–20
- Jer. 3:6–4:4
- 1 Cor. 1:4–9
- 2 Thess. 2:13–14