Joseph continued to act in the same manner even after he was elevated to the position of ruler over all of Egypt. It was not Joseph’s manner to take a seat, to relax and enjoy himself, or to demand the attention of others while he did so. Almost immediately, he was successful in identifying his task and getting started on doing it in an honest and diligent manner. He traveled over the whole of Egypt and saw how prosperous and plentiful the grain fields were, providing much more than the population was able to consume for their own needs at the time. He admonished the people not to squander money but to put it away in preparation for the impending disaster.
And he commanded the people to give him, for the sake of the king, one bushel of grain for every five, so that it may be stored. After taking what they needed, the people brought their grain to Joseph, who stored it in large storehouses inside the towns. By the end, there was so much of it that no one could keep an accurate account of it.
Joseph was given a bride by the king of Egypt, who chose her from among the fine young ladies of his country. Her name was Asenath, and Joseph and his wife were blessed with two boys by the hand of God. He gave the name Manasseh to his eldest son, which literally translates to “making to forget.”
Because of this, Joseph was able to say, “God has let me forget all my hardships and the toil that I had to endure as a slave.”
He gave the name Ephraim, which comes from the Hebrew and means “fruitful,” to his second son. Because, as Joseph explained it, “God has not only made the land fertile, but he has also made me successful in the land of my troubles.”
The seven years of abundance came to an end all too quickly, and then the years of famine began. People were starving in all of the neighboring regions since there was no food available for them to consume, but in the country of Egypt, everyone had more than enough to eat. The majority of the people quickly consumed all the grain that they had stored up; in fact, many of them had not stored away any grain at all, and they all appealed to the king for assistance.
Pharaoh instructed the Egyptians to seek out Joseph and follow his instructions exactly, saying, “Go, do what he instructs you to do.”
Then all of the people came to Joseph, and Joseph opened all of the storehouses and sold all of the grain that the people desired to purchase to them. And not only the inhabitants of Egypt but also people from all of the surrounding regions came to purchase grain, since there was a tremendous need and hunger everywhere. And the need was just as great in the land of Canaan, which is where Jacob lived, as it was in other places. Jacob was prosperous in terms of flocks and livestock, as well as in terms of money and silver, but his fields did not produce grain, and there was a risk that his family and his people would starve to death. And when Jacob, who was now also known as Israel, learned that there was food in Egypt, he told his sons, “There is food in Egypt.” “Why are you looking at each other in confusion, trying to figure out what to do in order to get food?” It has been brought to my attention that Egypt has grain. “You must go to that nation, bring some money with you, and bring back some grain in order for us to eat bread and to continue to exist.”
After then, Joseph’s eleven elder brothers traveled all the way down to Egypt. They traveled with money and rode on asses since horses were not used very often during those times. But Jacob would not consent to let Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, go with them. Benjamin was especially precious to his father now that Joseph was no longer living with them, and Jacob was concerned that something bad may happen to Benjamin.
Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt in order to purchase food. They did not recognize Joseph when he appeared before them as an adult, clad in the clothing of a prince and occupying a royal seat. Joseph had almost reached the age of forty at this point, and it had been about twenty-three years since they had sold him. But Joseph recognized every single one of them the moment he laid eyes on them. He did not hate them, but he was curious about their character and whether or not they were still as self-centered, cruel, and wicked as they had been in the past. So he decided to be harsh and severe with them. He did not do this because he wanted to harm them.
They came into his presence and bowed to the ground while touching the ground in front of him. Then, Joseph undoubtedly recalled the dream that had been shown to him when he was a little boy, in which he saw his brothers’ sheaves stooping down around his own sheaf. He pretended to be unfamiliar with them and as if he did not understand their language, and he asked to have their words translated into Egyptian so that he could communicate with them.
“Who are you, exactly?” “And what part of the world do you call home?” asked Joseph in a harsh and severe tone of voice.
They replied to him in a very submissive manner, “We have come from the region of Canaan in order to purchase food.”
“No,” Joseph said, “I am aware of the reason you have come.” “You have entered our territory in the disguise of spies in order to see how powerless the people here are so that you might begin an attack on us and wage war against us.”
The response of Joseph’s 10 brothers was “No, no.” “We are not spies in any way. We are the sons of a single man who lives in the region of Canaan, and we have traveled here in search of food since we do not have any at our residence.”
“You mention that you are the sons of a single father; may we ask who that man is?” Is he still alive? Are there any more brothers in your family? “Please tell me more about your background.”
They spoke as follows: “In Canaan, our father is a seasoned veteran of life.” “We did have another younger brother, but he mysteriously vanished; we still have one brother, who is the youngest of all of us, but his father refused to allow him to travel with us.”
“No,” said Joseph. “You are not decent, honest men. You are spies. I will throw you all in jail, except for one of you, and he will be responsible for bringing me your youngest brother. “Only when I have seen him will I believe that you are telling the truth about what happened.”
Therefore, Joseph locked up all 10 of the men in a cell, where they remained under watch for three days until he sent for them once again. They were unaware that he was able to understand their language, so while Joseph overheard what they were saying to each other, he pretended not to hear what they said: “Everything that has happened to us is a direct result of the wrongdoing that our family committed over twenty years ago against our brother Joseph.” When we threw him into the pit, we could hear him sobbing and pleading with us for mercy, but we had no compassion for him. God is really just rewarding us with what we justly deserve for our actions.
And Reuben, who had previously intervened on Joseph’s behalf, said, “Did I not warn you to be careful with the child?” and you refused to pay attention to what I had to say. “The blood of our brothers will be poured out on all of us by God.”
When Joseph heard this, it moved him to the depths of his soul because he understood that his brothers felt genuine remorse for the wrongs they had committed against him. He turned his back on them so that they could not see the tears streaming down his cheeks as he sobbed. After that, he talked to them again in the same harsh way he had before and said:
“This is something that I will do because I worship God.” I will let you all go, with the exception of one of you. I will throw one of you in prison, but the rest of you are free to go back to your homes and get food for the rest of your people. “You are required to make a second trip, this time bringing your younger brother along with you, in order for me to believe that what you have said is true.”
Then Joseph issued orders, and his slaves arrested one of his brothers, whose name was Simeon, shackled him in front of them, and dragged him away to be imprisoned. And he gave orders to his servants to fill the men’s bags with grain and place the men’s money inside the sacks before tying them up. This way, when the men opened their sacks, they would find their money just where it had been placed. The men then proceeded to load their asses with the bags of grain, and they set out for their homes, leaving their brother Simeon with them as a captive.
When they stopped along the route to feed their asses, one of the brothers unzipped his bag, and inside, on top of the grain, he discovered his money laying there. He said to his brothers, “Look, here is my money that has been handed back to me again!” They were terrified, but they did not have the courage to go all the way back to Egypt to face the harsh leader of the country. They went home and told their elderly father everything that had happened, including the fact that their brother Simeon was in prison and would have to remain there until they returned, this time bringing Benjamin with them.
When they opened their bags of grain, there was the money that they had paid within the mouth of each sack, and they were filled with fear. Then they discussed the possibility of returning to Egypt in order to bring back Simeon, but Jacob warned them as follows:
“You are going to take my children away from me.” You would now take Benjamin away, after Joseph and Simeon have already been taken from us. “It seems like everything is plotting against me!” Reuben said, “These are my own two sons who are here.” “In the event that I am unable to bring Benjamin back to you, you have the option of taking their lives.” But Jacob said: “You won’t be seeing my youngest son along the way.” Because my brother passed away, I am responsible for taking care of only him. “If anything bad were to happen to him, it would make me so sad that I may as well just go ahead and bury myself.”