At the very opening of the fruitful
years began the preparation for the approaching famine. Under the direction
of Joseph, immense storehouses were erected in all the principal places
throughout the land of Egypt, and ample arrangements were made for
preserving the surplus of the expected harvest. The same policy was
continued during the seven years of plenty, until the amount of grain laid
in store was beyond computation.
And now the seven years of dearth began to come, according
to Joseph's prediction. "And the dearth was in all lands; but in all the
land of Egypt there was bread. And when all the land of Egypt was famished,
the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the
Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. And the famine was over
all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold
unto the Egyptians."
The famine extended to the land of Canaan and was severely
felt in that part of the country where Jacob dwelt. Hearing of the abundant
provision made by the king of Egypt, ten of Jacob's sons journeyed thither
to purchase grain. On their arrival they were directed to the king's deputy,
and with other applicants they came to present themselves before the ruler
of the land. And they "bowed down themselves before him with their faces to
the earth." "Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him."
His Hebrew name had been exchanged for the one bestowed
upon him by the king, and there was little resemblance between the prime
minister of Egypt and the stripling whom they had sold to the Ishmaelites.
As Joseph saw his brothers stooping and making obeisance, his dreams came to
his mind, and the scenes of the past rose vividly before him. His keen eye,
surveying the group, discovered that Benjamin was not among them. Had he
a victim to the treacherous cruelty of those savage men? He determined to
learn the truth. "Ye are spies," he said sternly; "to see the nakedness of
the land ye are come."
They answered, "Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy
servants come. We are all one man's sons; we are true men; thy servants are
no spies." He wished to learn if they possessed the same haughty spirit as
when he was with them, and also to draw from them some information in regard
to their home; yet he well knew how deceptive their statements might be. He
repeated the charge, and they replied, "Thy servants are twelve brethren,
the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this
day with our father, and one is not."
Professing to doubt the truthfulness of their story, and
to still look upon them as spies, the governor declared that he would prove
them, by requiring them to remain in Egypt till one of their number should
go and bring their youngest brother down. If they would not consent to this,
they were to be treated as spies. But to such an arrangement the sons of
Jacob could not agree, since the time required for carrying it out would
cause their families to suffer for food; and who among them would undertake
the journey alone, leaving his brothers in prison? How could he meet his
father under such circumstances?
It appeared probable that they were to be put to death or
to be made slaves; and if Benjamin were brought, it might be only to share
their fate. They decided to remain and suffer together, rather than bring
additional sorrow upon their father by the loss of his only remaining son.
They were accordingly cast into prison, where they remained three days.
During the years since Joseph had been separated from his
brothers, these sons of Jacob had changed in character. Envious, turbulent,
deceptive, cruel, and revengeful they had been; but now, when tested by
adversity, they were shown to be unselfish, true to one another, devoted to
their father, and, themselves middle-aged men, subject to his authority.
The three days in the Egyptian prison were days of bitter
sorrow as the brothers reflected upon their past sins. Unless Benjamin could
be produced their conviction as spies appeared certain, and they had little
hope of gaining their father's consent to Benjamin's absence. On the third
day Joseph caused the brothers to be brought before him. He dared not detain
Already his father and the families with him might be
suffering for food. "This do, and live," he said; "for I fear God; if ye be
true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go
ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: but bring your youngest
brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die."
This proposition they agreed to accept, though expressing little hope that
their father would let Benjamin return with them. Joseph had communicated
with them through an interpreter, and having no thought that the governor
understood them, they conversed freely with one another in his presence.
They accused themselves in regard to their treatment of
Joseph: "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the
anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore
is this distress come upon us." Reuben, who had formed the plan for
delivering him at Dothan, added, "Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin
against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood
is required." Joseph, listening, could not control his emotions, and he went
out and wept. On his return he commanded that Simeon be bound before them
and again committed to prison. In the cruel treatment of their brother,
Simeon had been the instigator and chief actor, and it was for this reason
that the choice fell upon him.
Before permitting his brothers to depart, Joseph gave
directions that they should be supplied with grain, and also that each man's
money should be secretly placed in the mouth of his sack. Provender for the
beasts on the homeward journey was also supplied. On the way one of the
company, opening his sack, was surprised to find his bag of silver. On his
making known the fact to the others, they were alarmed and perplexed, and
said one to another, "What is this that God hath done unto us?"--should they
regard it as a token of good from the Lord, or had He suffered it to occur
to punish them for their sins and plunge them still deeper in affliction?
They acknowledged that God had seen their sins, and that He was now