The following narrative is told from Joseph’s perspective and voice:
I see ten weary faces trudging towards me. They are Canaanites by their clothing, set apart from all the Egyptians surrounding them. I haven’t seen a Canaanite since . . . Yes, it’s them.
In the dusty and sweltering sun of Egypt, my brothers approach me in the shade of my tent where I sell grain for the hungry people during this time of famine.
Somehow, my face remains calm, not giving away the fact that these men betrayed me 20 years ago.
Reuben, Judah, Levi, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Naphtali, Dan and Asher . . .
My brothers, the ones who sold me into slavery.
My brothers who threw me into a pit, ripped off my beautiful coat and sold me to Ishmaelites. My brothers who set the trajectory for my next 20 years in Egypt.
My brothers who are now bowing before me, asking to buy grain, and they do not recognize me.
It probably helps they think I am dead or in bondage who knows where… definitely not second-in-command of all Egypt. I have been a slave, a prisoner, a governor and now a father.
I don’t have much time to think.
After 20 years, they show up here?
Bowing before me? Talk about fulfilling those dreams I had that started this whole mess and made them ready to murder me.
Sure, maybe after 20 years I should have gotten over this by now. Live and let live, be content with my wife and two children . . . Except I haven’t seen my father in 20 years, I don’t know my youngest brother, and is my mother even alive?
They took that away from me.
I ask them in a harsh tone where they had come from as I wonder if they have any semblance of regret at all. Their answer is predictable: “From the land of Canaan,” they say, “to buy food.”
“Surely it is an act of God that they are here now,” I think as they stand in front of me with the heat of the Egyptian sun bearing down on their necks and faces as sweat accumulates on their brows and drip off their noses. A plan, a test, hatches in my mind. I want to know if my brothers have changed at all, if they are even worth it.
Two decades of rage simmer over me. I stare into each of their dark, brown eyes, not seeing a glimpse of recognition for their long-lost brother.
I yell at them, “You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”
In their shock and horror, they try to deny it. But I’m way past the point of listening and I tell the guards to arrest my brothers and throw them into prison for three days. Maybe now they can experience the darkness, the loneliness, and the helplessness I felt for a decade.
My thoughts turn to my youngest brother, Benjamin, who is not with the brothers I placed in jail.
I hatch a plan. In order to see Benjamin and also see if my brothers feel any remorse for what they did to me, I bring them before me once again and say: “I am a God-fearing man. If you do as I say, you will live. If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. But you must bring your youngest brother back to me. This will prove that you are telling the truth, and you will not die.”
They begin to talk among themselves, unaware that I am listening to their every word.
You see, through all of this, they have only heard me speaking Egyptian to my Canaanite interpreter, despite the fact I know the language of my brothers and my homeland well. It would confuse them if they knew I spoke their language, and it gives me an advantage because they do not know I understand them.
So I was able to catch every word right before I selected Simeon to remain locked up:
“Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble,” the brothers whispered to each other.
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben exclaimed in an I-told-you-so manner. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
It’s impossible to remain composed. I turn my back towards them as hot tears begin to slide down my cheeks. So it seems they might regret selling me like an animal, but I need to stick to the plan.
I ask for their silver to be placed back inside their sacks of grain, which should give them something to worry about. As they leave, I watch and now I must wait for their return, unless they want Simeon to stay in jail forever.
I see 11 Canaanites on brown donkeys approaching the city gates. They’ve come back like I knew they would. Even though I can’t see his face, I know Benjamin must be with them. The famine is severe throughout the land, their return was inevitable as Egypt is the only place with grain for the entire region.
I order my servant to invite them to dinner as I leave to put the final piece into play. Oh yes, and to release Simeon, he’s been in there for a few months.
My sandals slap the carved limestone steps as I briskly walk into my house. Beautifully painted hieroglyphs greet me as they decorate the pillars and the walls telling ancient stories of Egypt, the Nile River and renowned Pharaohs.
I see my brothers gathered in the courtyard and I can tell they are afraid by the way they are standing and the slight trembling of Reuben’s hands. Once again, they bow down before me, this time with familiar gifts from home: balm, honey, spices, myrrh, pistachios and almonds in baskets.
I decide to play nice and ask them about Dad: “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”
“Yes,” they replied. “Our father, your servant, is alive and well.” And they bowed low again.
And then I see Benjamin, a young teenage boy, probably about the same age I was when I was sold into slavery. Brother of my blood. He is probably the favorite, like I was. I wonder if the brothers hate him for it like they did me.
I can’t control my emotions; it’s too much. I flee the courtyard, sprint to my bedroom, lean against a limestone column, and begin to sob.
It all comes flooding back. Everything I have been through, cast out by my own kin. My heart longs to see my father, and I cry in anguish for the death of my mother. But I have a brother, and I have ten half-brothers who have a test to finish.
I tell my servant to bring me a washbasin of warm water. I splash water onto my face, hiding my sorrow. My red, puffy eyes begin to return to normal. I sigh and gather myself and tell the servants to serve the food.
I had already told the servants where to place my brothers, from eldest to youngest . . . let them think about that while they eat over their meal.
It’s really too bad I won’t be able to see their shocked faces when they realize they are organized by age since Egyptians eat separately from foreigners. But in truth, I am just as foreign as them. And maybe I told them to give Benjamin five portions – perhaps I am a bit biased.
After I finish eating – which didn’t take long because the anticipation of what I am about to do has taken away my hunger – I tell the servants to put my silver cup at the top of the sack of grain designated for Benjamin, and the silver from my brothers into each of their own sacks.
After a long night of partying, I send them away and give them a 20-minute head start on their donkeys until I send my own men to arrest them.
When they return to my house, their clothes are torn, and they throw themselves at my feet in the courtyard because of my silver goblet inside Benjamin’s sack.
They know the crime of stealing would not be taken lightly. I don’t disappoint them and say the penalty is slavery, which is perhaps a fate worse than death. Or the very fate they chained me to.
They beg me to take them in exchange for Benjamin and plead for his freedom.
They are willing to give themselves up so Benjamin might return to Jacob? I can’t bear it. They have learned; they have passed my test.
I tell all my servants and other guests to leave the room for privacy. I begin to weep loudly and uncontrollably as I tell my brothers the truth: “I am Joseph!”
They look at me, petrified, probably with good reason considering they sold me into slavery.
I tell them to come to me, to see my face and to recognize me as their brother. I tell them again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.”
Their eyes begin to blink in recognition, then fear, so I continue: “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives during this famine that will continue to ravage the land for five more years. It was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”
And then sobbing, I embrace Benjamin and then Reuben, Simeon, Judah . . . each one.
And then I tell them to come to Egypt with me.
Sometimes it might feel easier to hold on to years of bitterness, anger, and resentment . . . and let it fester. It might be easier to not let go, to not forgive.
But as Joseph’s life has unfolded, we see how one man of God decides to forgive and love those who have wronged him. Yes, he threw them in prison a couple of times and made them sweat. But in the very end, he chose to embrace them and provide for them and see God’s hand in all the suffering, pain, and final exultation that was wrought from being sold into slavery.
Life will not always be rainbows and sunshine. Storms, hail, rain . . . the absolute “worst” might be thrown your way, and in the midst of it, the testament of our faith is whether or not we turn to God in faith, or trust in ourselves.
Do we depend on God to forgive others who have wronged us?
Do we depend on God in our hardest circumstances?
Wherever you are, in a high or a low, always know you can depend on God. Joseph went through many highs and lows and this is why I love his character so much . . . because he is quite relatable in that he went through a lot of difficult, no-good situations! But God brought him through it, and there was a rainbow at the end of the storm.
God can breathe beauty into your brokenness, too. Just trust in his plans for your life (Jeremiah 29:11).
In love and truth,