When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him. – Genesis 43:26-34 ESV
It had been many years since Joseph had experienced his two dreams while living in the land of Canaan with his father and brothers. He would have been 39-years old at this point in the story, but he would not have forgotten those two dreams and the reaction of his father and brothers when he shared them. He may not have fully known what they meant, but he knew jealousy and resentment when he saw it. Those two dreams were the impetus for his brothers’ betrayal of him.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. – Genesis 37:5-8 ESV
It was his dreams, at least in part, that had resulted in his sale to the Midianite traders. And that one act had set in motion a chain of events that led to Joseph’s rise to power. And now, years later, at least one of his dreams would be fulfilled right before his eyes.
And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. – Genesis 43:28b ESV
But this was not the thing that caught Joseph’s attention. He was not seeking for revenge or retribution. He did not gloat over the fact that his brothers were being forced to bow before him. At this point, they did not even know who he was. No, Joseph was overcome with emotion by seeing his younger brother, Benjamin. Jacob had 12 sons. Four of them were born to his wife, Leah. They were Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Dan and Naphtali were born to Bilhah. Gad and Asher were born to Zilpah. Issachar and Zebulun were born to Leah. But Joseph and Benjamin were born to Rachel. They shared the same mother. And there was a 16-year difference in their ages. So when Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome with emotion. So much so, that he had to excuse himself and go to another room to weep. When he had regained his composure, he rejoined his brothers for a meal.
It was at this meal that Joseph gave his brothers yet another test. While they all shared the privilege of eating in the Egyptian governor’s home as his guests, Benjamin was given five times the portions his brothers received. Joseph was showing his youngest brother favor much as his father had done to him years earlier. Would his brothers become jealous? Would they reveal a hatred for Benjamin as they had for Joseph? Joseph got his answer. “And they drank and were merry with him” (Genesis 43:34 ESV). The Hebrew word translated “merry”, actually indicates that they got drunk. This time his brothers were too busy being amazed at their incredible good fortune and too relieved that things had turned out the way they had to get jealous. But they were in for quite a surprise. Their merriment was going to turn into amazement when they discovered who their host really was. Their joy was going to turn into fear when they learned his true identity and realized their dangerous predicament. But before Joseph would reveal himself to his brothers, he had yet another test to give them.
Why all the subterfuge? Why didn’t Joseph just reveal himself to his brothers immediately? Was it really necessary for him to play this charade and keep his identity a secret? What was he trying to accomplish? The best we can gather from the events recorded in the book of Genesis is that Joseph was trying to ascertain if his brothers had changed. Did they have any remorse over what they had done to him years earlier? In the years since they had sold him into slavery, had they matured and had enough time to rethink their actions? Did they regret their earlier decision? Joseph longed to be restored to his family, but he had to know just what kind of family they were. He was in a position to bless them and provide for them, but Joseph wanted to know the condition of their hearts. We know from the record of Genesis, that Joseph was a man of integrity and honor. He had proven himself to be honest, a hard worker and loyal to his employers. In every situation he found himself, he applied himself to his work and made himself an invaluable asset to all those around him. He had the favor of God and men. But what about his brothers? Could they be trusted? Were they men of integrity and honesty? When they discovered who Joseph was, would their bowing be replaced with renewed hatred and jealousy. Joseph had been favored by God Himself. God had raised Joseph to a prominent position in the court of Pharaoh. God had clothed Joseph with beautiful garments and given him riches beyond his brothers’ wildest dreams. Would their old jealousies surface again?
Behind all of this is the hand of God preparing his people for His blessings and the fulfillment of His promises. As we have already seen, this is not really a story about Joseph, but about God and His faithfulness to His chosen people, Israel. Joseph is simply a conduit through whom God sent dreams and by whom God was going to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham. Joseph’s dream had come true. His brothers had bowed down before him. But the real point of the story is that God’s promise was coming true. He was in the process of fulfilling all that He had said He would do. And each of these events is part of His divine plan for bringing about His to make of Abraham a great nation and, through him, to bless all the families of the earth.